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Hamlin takes on Dale Jr. after on-track run-in

August 17, 2014, Staff report, NASCAR.com

Joe Gibbs Racing driver fights to keep up with Hendrick power

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Denny Hamlin clinched a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup at Michigan International Speedway, but Hamlin was more concerned with seeking out Dale Earnhardt Jr. following the Pure Michigan 400 on Sunday.

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Finishing seventh, his fifth top-nine result in the last six races, Hamlin was pleased with his car in the four turns at the 2-mile oval.

"I've got a screaming fast car in the corners," Hamlin said in his car early in the race. "It's just blowing everybody away."

But on the straightaways, the No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing struggled to keep up so he did all he could to find an advantage.

"I'm trying to fight -- do everything I can -- to keep up with the Hendrick engines," Hamlin said after the race. "I'm side-drafting down the straightaway, trying to do everything I can. Not things I frown upon when I see other drivers do them. We're trying to do everything we can to keep our track position. 

"He (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) got a little upset that I was side-drafting and so he kind of crowded me up to the wall in turn four. I was a little disappointed, but that's part of it. You talk about it, get it worked out and move on."

Following their pit-road confrontation, Earnhardt, who finished fifth, admitted to moving Hamlin up the track and explained why he did it.

"Yeah, I ran him up the track a little bit early in the race," Earnhardt said. "It was way, way early, and he didn't like it too much. I mean, I've been run up the track too, and I didn't like it either."

The two Chase-bound drivers will square off again later this week, seeking their second wins in the Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC). For Hamlin, it would be a second win in the last three years in August in Thunder Valley. Earnhardt would celebrate the 10th anniversary of his last night race win with a victory.

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