After qualifying fourth, he spent much of Sunday in the top 5. His late race adversary however had been dominating the race, leading 173 of the 267 laps run. Hamlin however, kept patient and begun stalking Truex. He made the pass with 30 laps remaining. Truex however, went down swinging as he tried valiantly twice, to regain the lead but it wasn’t to be. Martin Truex Jr finished second and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top three. Matt Kenseth placed fourth, and Greg Biffle rounded out the top five. There were only three cautions for a total of 18 laps with 14 lead changes among nine different drivers.
Hamlin’s comments after the race. “Great day for our race team. The pit crew did amazing there on that green-flag pit stop. [Crew chief] Darian [Grubb] made a great call to bring me in one lap early and just a great team effort today. This has been a great weekend, and we just had a solid car all week. … Once I got to the lead, I felt like I got a little bit complacent mainly on corner entry, just being careful. But what got me the lead was driving hard, and so I needed to get back to that.”
Perhaps the more interesting revelation of the weekend is the relationship forming between JGR and Michael Waltrip Racing, both teams run Toyota’s and both teams are working together to aid each other in the quest for wins.
This kind of pseudo teammates is nothing new, perhaps though the politics of it are new. In the past the three large “factory” teams who develop their own chassis and engines would support smaller teams by supplying engines and chassis to these teams, known as customer teams. The big three, Hendrick, Roush-Fenway and RCR would always keep the best parts and technology for the cars they run versus what customer teams would receive. That element is changing as the teams here; JGR and MWR are more like peers working together to make Toyota a stronger brand.
“You know, at the end, it’s a no-lose situation for myself because I’m a fan of Martin’s, I’m a fan of Michael Waltrip and they’ve really done some great things with that program,” Hamlin said “It was a good day for Toyota because Michael Waltrip Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing have a bond that’s working better and better together, obviously, with the common-engine package and everything, so we’re starting to see these Toyotas start to make a run.”
Crew Chief Darian Grubb who was the championship winning crew chief for driver Tony Stewart last season is now Hamlin’s pit boss. “It’s a little bit similar, but not completely because we’re not running the same chassis,” Grubb said. “We’re running the same engine package, but that’s really the only thing.” Grubb is referring to the Hendrick chassis and engine package that he had at Stewart Haas.
“The rest of it is just the crew-chief relationships,” Grubb admitted. “Chad Johnston, Brian Pattie and Rodney Childers are all good friends of mine, so having those one-on-one friendships is probably better than anything, because we actually communicate.
“We agree not to lie to each other. That’s probably the bigger thing.” Grubb said the key is to keep just enough information to yourself so when it is a tight battle, you have the extra little bit of knowledge over your “teammate”. That said, there is a limit to what the crew chiefs at JGR and MWR are willing to exchange obviously.
“I might not tell you everything, but I’ll be honest if you ask a question,” Grubb said. “And that’s why we try to treat each other with respect and we know what is going to help each other. But we also try to keep a few things under our hat to help us win.”
For Hamlin it is a similar viewpoint. “For us, I felt like we had a leg up on those guys for the past couple years,” said Hamlin, who is sixth in points. “I drove their cars, they drove our cars [during testing] at Charlotte last year, and I feel like we’ve probably learned a lot about each other’s programs through doing that.
“You’ve obviously seen how well their cars are running this year. We know personally on our side how much hard work that takes to make that big of a jump. So it’s pretty commendable that … they’ve hired some good people over there. They’ve got good drivers over there, and I feel like as well as they’re running, we can feed off of them. And when we run well, they can feed off of us. “I think there are only really six big Toyota cars out here, and we’ve all got to work together to all run well. That’s our main goal: to run well for Toyota and make them a championship contender and a championship manufacturer.”
“It’s good to see that we can now use some feedback from those guys,” Hamlin said. “It’s tough using feedback from teams that run 20th or so because you’ve got to kind of take it for what it is. But when you have five or six Toyotas all running up toward the front, then you really can start to tune in your program better and better.”
It will be interesting to see if other teams begin to work on more of an equal level, and if the former customer team relationships will endure or evolve. The series moves on to Richmond International Speedway this upcoming weekend for the as-yet unsponsored, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 400.