In truth, Hamlin also won the race much earlier than that, when No. 11 crew chief Drew Blickensderfer’s late-race strategy played directly into the strengths of Hamlin’s Camry.
In an exercise of patience, Hamlin may not have been at the point at the start of the final stage, but he didn’t have to be. That’s because his car was very good on the long run. That strategy works as long as there is a long green run to the checkered flag.
Was it a gamble that, as long as the race stayed green for most of the late stages, it’d play into Hamlin’s hands? Sure. But it worked and was a definite departure from what we have seen so many times this year: a race being principally won due to track position from a pit stop that moved someone to the lead.
Frontrunners Keep Eyes On Big Picture
Near the end of the second stage on Sunday, race leaders such as Hamlin, Kyle Larson and Bubba Wallace were well in place to pile up stage points and momentum. Big decision time would come with six laps to go after a Christopher Bell spin, offering the chance to stay out in favor of stage points and abandon an already-in-place strategy.
But those making the calls atop the respective pit boxes knew that while points earned to wrap up the second stage may have been akin to a slice, the final result on Sunday was the loaf.
Their decisions reflected that as rather than staying out on older tires, four tires were the call among the leaders. While a few more stage points would have been nice for these frontrunners at the time, taking on tires would pay off better in the big picture, and the pit calls would prove that as Larson and Wallace both wound up finishing in the top five.
… But Logano’s Stage Two Call Pays Off
But the other part of the end of stage two came from drivers needing a jolt of momentum to get their day going in the right direction. There was less to lose for drivers further back in the field, with nine drivers staying out to lead going to the final few laps of the stage. When it all ended, Logano won the stage with key stage points going to the likes of Michael McDowell, Erik Jones, Noah Gragson and Ty Dillon.
Logano, by far, was the big winner on the sequence. He used the stage win to get closer to the front and salvaged that to end up sixth, a far cry from how the race started. It was…