Joe Gibbs Racing’s winless streak is over.
Hamlin took the lead off the final restart of the race with 35 laps to go. Teammate Matt Kenseth was the race leader but he was the only car that took two tires during the caution flag. The rest of the leaders took four tires.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. stayed out on old tires and Kenseth got away from Junior. But Hamlin quickly passed Junior too and ran down Kenseth with 33 laps to go and kept the lead the rest of the way.
Hamlin started Sunday’s race in a car that he wasn’t supposed to be driving over the weekend. On Friday, Hamlin’s car got loose coming off turn 4 in practice and he smashed the inside wall. The damage to the car was too severe to fix so his team scrapped the car and went to the backup.
“For them to do the extra work to get the engine change before qualifying was key, that pays off,” Hamlin said.
Since Hamlin was able to make his qualifying laps in the backup car he was able to start where he qualified in eighth rather than dropping to the rear of the field before the beginning of the race.
After posting 26 wins in 2015 and 2016 combined — exactly a third of the races in the past two seasons — JGR hadn’t won a race over the first 18 races of the season in 2017. It was the longest stretch the team has ever gone to start a season without winning a race.
The fact that the streak ended Sunday isn’t much of a surprise. The Toyotas of JGR and Furniture Row Racing — which gets its equipment from JGR — were by far the fastest cars all day. Hamlin (54), teammate Kyle Busch (95) and FRR’s Martin Truex Jr. (137) led 290 of the race’s 301 laps.