The teams split to execute a one- or two-stop pit strategy on the final leg of Sunday’s race at Richmond (Va.) Raceway, with William Byron and Martin Truex Jr. opting for a stop in the pit stop. 170 laps while Hamlin and Harvick were among those using two stops.
Byron, on older tyres, managed to hold on to the lead for 71 laps but Hamlin – on fresher tires – eventually knocked him down and passed him with four of the 400 laps remaining. Hamlin then had to hold off Harvick by 0.552 seconds to claim his first victory of the 2022 season.
The victory was also the first for Toyota with the Next Gen car and the first for a Toyota driver since last October at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
Victory was much needed for Hamlin, who had yet to finish in the top 10 this season and was 22nd in the series standings heading into the race.
Hamlin and Harvick had pits under the green for new tires with less than 50 laps remaining while Byron’s final stop came with around 90 laps remaining.
“Just a great strategy there. I just drove as hard as I could. I’m so proud of this whole FedEx Camry team, man, I never give up,” Hamlin said. “There was no doubt in my mind, maybe just a little bit, but they got that car there towards the end.
Asked how the win could jump-start his season, Hamlin said: “We needed a data point, something, a good race to balance us out at other tracks. Obviously, I think we got it here.
Byron managed to hang on to finish third, Truex fourth and Kyle Larson rounded out the top five.
Christopher Bell, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon complete the top 10.
After the break between Stages 2 and 3, the leading lap cars are all in the pits with Truex, the first road out of the pits.
On the restart of lap 241, Truex led the way followed by Bell and Ross Chastain.
Cody Ware wrecked on Turns 1 and 2 on Lap 246 after contact with Erik Jones and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to bring out a warning.
Only a handful of cars park cautiously, including Hamlin, Byron, Daniel Suarez and Bubba Wallace. Truex stayed on the track and in the lead when the race returned to green on lap 253.
On lap 257, Ty Dillon knocked Cole Custer into Austin Cindric and sent him spinning to bring out a warning. Most cars in the lead lap with Truex, the first road out of the pits.
Byron was among those who stayed out and led the way for the restart on lap 264. He was followed by Suarez, Austin Dillon and Truex.
With 110 laps remaining, Byron maintained a small lead over Truex while Hamlin remained third, 3 seconds behind the leader.
On Lap 308, several cars leading the lap, including Harvick, Elliott and Almirola, launched a series of green flag pitstops.
Corey LaJoie was penalized for speeding on pit road and had to serve a passing penalty.
Once the pit stop cycle was complete on lap 325, Byron returned to the lead followed by Hamlin, Harvick, Bell and Austin Dillon.
On Lap 347, Kyle Busch was flagged by NASCAR and told to pit for having unapproved tape on his grille. Busch finally stood up on lap 351 to have the strip removed from his #18 Toyota.
Several cars that were executing a two-stop strategy in the final stage, made their final pit stops on lap 353, including Harvick, Austin Dillon, Bell and Custer.
With 25 laps to go, Byron maintained a 3.2 second lead over Truex as Larson raced third, Blaney fourth and Hamlin – on much fresher tires – fifth.
On lap 395, Hamlin moved up to second with Truex and Harvick right behind him.
Hamlin rounded Byron to take the lead with four laps to go.
Truex knocked Bell down on older tires and took the Stage 2 victory by 1.2 seconds.
Chastain was third, Joey Logano fourth and Blaney rounded out the top five.
After the break between Stages 1 and 2, all cars on the lead lap clashed with Blaney on the first road out of the pits. Bowman was penalized for pitting outside his pit and had to start from the back of the field.
When the race returned to green on Lap 81, Blaney led the way followed by Chastain, Chase Elliott, Bell and Kyle Busch.
Truex became the first of the lead lap cars to make a green flag pitstop on lap 124. Several more followed on lap 125. Blaney pitted on lap 130.
Once the pit stop cycle was complete on lap 155, Truex became the leader followed by Blaney, Kyle Busch, Logano and Elliott.
With 65 laps remaining in the stage, Truex maintained a 2.9 second lead over Blaney with Logano in third.
Chastain was the first driver to initiate another series of green flag pit stops on lap 174.
Several riders – including Bell – were trying to complete the stage in one stop.
With 45 laps to go, Bell and Hamlin raced first and second – and hadn’t stopped – while Truex was third, the first car to make a second pit stop.
With 25 laps remaining, Bell’s lead over Truex had fallen to less than four seconds with Hamlin in third.
On Lap 212, Truex went inside Bell on the backstretch and regained the lead on newer tires.
Blaney dominated the start, leading the 70 laps on his way to Stage 1 victory, his third of the 2022 season.
Byron was second, Chastain third, Truex fourth and Kyle Busch rounded out the top five.
Blaney started on pole and stayed ahead for the first 10 laps until NASCAR was forced to issue a lap 11 warning for Kurt Busch, who stalled on the straight. “No fuel pressure,” Busch said on his radio.
A handful of drivers chose to go to the pits. The race returned to green on lap 16 with Blaney still ahead.
With 40 laps remaining in the first stage, Blaney maintained nearly a second lead over Byron with Kyle Busch close behind in third.
With 20 laps to go, Blaney’s lead over Byron had increased to 1.5 seconds while Kyle Busch remained third, Chastain fourth and Truex fifth.
By lap 53, all four JGR cars – which struggled to start the 2022 season – were in the top 10.
On lap 59, Chastain rounded Kyle Busch to take third.
Cindric (unapproved adjustments), Justin Haley and Greg Biffle (both for multiple pre-qualifying inspection failures) all started the race from the back of the field.