BROOKLYN (AP) – A year ago at Michigan International Speedway Denny Hamlin questioned NASCAR throwing “phantom” caution flags for the good of the show.

The comments triggered a firestorm of controversy and in the end cost Hamlin a hefty fine from NASCAR for challenging the integrity of the sport.

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But Sunday Hamlin was all smiles after scoring a repeat win in the Helluva! Good Sour Cream Dips 400.

After a sluggish start to the season, Hamlin finally scored his first win of the year and in the process climbed back into the championship picture. He moved from twelfth to ninth and feels his team is finally headed in the right direction.

“It’s so tough because you know you belong in the Top 10 and you deserve to have a Chase spot, but the results don’t show for it,” said Hamlin. “So for us, it’s good to kind of get over this hump, get our first win of the season and hopefully it’s the first of many.”

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Even though there’s still more than two months left before the Chase cut-off race at Richmond in mid-September, Hamlin says it’s not too early to now start thinking about – and worrying about – the point standings.

“You have to,” he said. “If you’re not points racing at this point you’re not paying attention to the obvious because with this new format you either got to win or you’ve got to be inside the Top 10.”

Hamlin has now done both but knows there’s still lots of racing and twists and turns to come before he can sleep at night knowing he’ll have a chance to again fight for a title come playoff time.

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“I think everyone knows that we’ve been strong and today we didn’t look as strong as what we normally do here, but we got it working there at the end,” Hamlin said. “This is the point in the season where we really need to start hitting our stride and hopefully we got another good ten weeks before the Chase starts.”