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Teams split on running a one or two-stop pit strategy in the final stage of Sunday’s race at Richmond (Va.) Raceway, with William Byron and Martin Truex Jr. opting for one stop in the 170-lap stage while Hamlin and Harvick were among those using two stops.
Byron, on older tires, managed to hang on to the lead for 71 laps but Hamlin – on fresher tires – finally ran him down and passed him with four of 400 laps remaining. Hamlin then had to hold off Harvick by 0.552 seconds to earn his first win of the 2022 season.
The win was also the first for Toyota with the Next Gen car and first for a Toyota driver since last October at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
The win was much-needed for Hamlin, who had yet to score a top-10 finish this season and was 22nd in the series standings entering the race.
Hamlin and Harvick had pit under green for new tires with less than 50 laps remaining while Byron’s final stop came with about 90 laps remaining.
“Just great strategy there. Just drove as hard as I could. Just so proud of this whole FedEx Camry team, man, just never giving up,” Hamlin said. “There was no doubt in my mind, maybe just a little, but they got this car right there towards the end.
Asked about how the win could jump-start his season, Hamlin said, “We needed a data point, something, a good run to kind of balance ourselves on 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.
Completing the top-10 were Christopher Bell, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon.
Following the break between Stages 2 and 3, the lead-lap cars all pit with Truex the first off pit road.
On the restart on Lap 241, Truex led the way followed by Bell and Ross Chastain.
Cody Ware wrecked in Turns 1 and 2 on Lap 246 after contact with Erik Jones and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to bring out a caution.
Just a handful of cars pit under caution, including Hamlin, Byron, Daniel Suarez and Bubba Wallace. Truex remained 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 caution. Most of the lead-lap cars pit with Truex the first off pit road.
Byron was among those who stayed out and led the way on 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 in third, 3 seconds behind the leader.
On Lap 308, several lead-lap cars, including Harvick, Elliott and Almirola, kicked off a round of green-flag stops.
Corey LaJoie was penalized for speeding on pit road and had to serve a pass-through penalty.
Once the cycle of stops was completed on Lap 325, Byron cycled back to the lead followed by Hamlin, Harvick, Bell and Austin Dillon.
On Lap 347, Kyle Busch was black-flagged by NASCAR and told to pit for having unapproved tape on his front grille. Busch finally pit on Lap 351 to have the tape removed from his No. 18 Toyota.
Several cars who were running 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 remaining, Byron maintained a 3.2-second lead over Truex as Larson ran third, Blaney fourth and Hamlin – on much fresher tires – in fifth.
On Lap 395, Hamlin moved into second with Truex and Harvick right behind him.
Hamlin got around Byron for the lead with four laps remaining.
Truex ran down Bell on older tires and cruised to the Stage 2 win by 1.2 seconds.
Chastain finished third, Joey Logano fourth and Blaney rounded out the top-five.
Following the break between Stages 1 and 2, all the lead-lap cars pit with Blaney the first off pit road. Bowman was penalized for pitting outside his pit box and had to restart from the rear 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 pit stop on Lap 124. Several others followed on Lap 125. Blaney pit on Lap 130.
Once the cycle of stops was completed on Lap 155, Truex emerged 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 kick off another round of green-flag pit stops on Lap 174.
Several drivers – including Bell – were trying to complete the stage on just one stop.
With 45 laps to go, Bell and Hamlin ran first and second – and had not stopped – while Truex was third, the first car who had made a second pit stop.
With 25 laps remaining, Bell’s lead over Truex had dropped to under four seconds with Hamlin in third.
On Lap 212, Truex went to the inside of Bell on the backstretch and reclaimed the lead on newer tires.
Blaney dominated the early going, leading all 70 laps on his way to the Stage 1 win, his third of the 2022 season.
Byron was second, Chastain third, Truex fourth and Kyle Busch rounded out the top-five.
Blaney started on the pole and remained out front the first 10 laps until NASCAR was forced to display a caution on Lap 11 for Kurt Busch, who stalled on the backstretch. “No fuel pressure,” Busch said over his radio.
A handful of drivers elected to pit. The race returned to green on Lap 16 with Blaney still out front.
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 grown to 1.5 seconds while Kyle Busch remained in third, Chastain fourth and Truex fifth.
By Lap 53, all four JGR cars – which have struggled to start the 2022 season – were running in the top-10.
On Lap 59, Chastain made his way around Kyle Busch to take over the third position.
Cindric (unapproved adjustments), Justin Haley and Greg Biffle (both for multiple pre-qualifying inspection failures) all started the race from the rear of the field.