With less than 40 laps to go Hamlin had to go to the rear for an uncontrolled tire during a pit stop under caution.
It took the No. 18 car just over 30 laps to get up to third after restarting 14th.
Then a caution flew with under two laps to go and changed the entire outcome of the 300-mile race.
Hamlin's JGR teammate and pole-sitter Erik Jones brought out a caution when he cut down a right front tire, pounding the outside wall. The No. 18 team decided to come down and put four tires on their machine, while the two race leaders stayed out.
On the green-white-checkered finish, Hamlin grabbed the lead coming to the white flag where he wouldn't look back en route to JGR's seventh win of the season in the series.
"It was a second opportunity," Hamlin said of his victory. "I was hoping for that caution there and the end and we got it. We were able to get four tires and took off. It was a little closer than I thought, we were just really right in those last couple of laps."
Austin Dillon was the first off pit road taking just two tires after the final caution. He gained one position in the final two laps, finishing in the runner-up position.
After leading 58 laps and being one of two drivers to stay out under the late race caution, Joey Logano came home third. This is his second top-five finish in five races this season in the No. 22 car, which is still looking for its first victory as a team.
"We had a car that was capable of winning if circumstances were right," Logano said of his third-place effort. "I thought I was going to have a good restart next to [Kyle] and I thought if we cleared him, like we did, we would have a shot. It was just really hard to hold off those four tires."
In his second career start Cole Custer came home with a fourth-place finish. His JR Motorsports teammate, Justin Allgaier rounded out the top five.
Kyle Larson made a bold move in Turn 3 of the final lap going for the win, but came up short and hit the outside wall. It cost him dearly as he finished sixth after leading 46 laps.
Larson was the leader of the race when the final caution flag flew and the No. 42 team decided to stay out. Going into the final set of corners he had a shot at the victory, but came up short of his third career XFINITY Series triumph.
"I didn't get a great take-off and Joey [Logano] got around me and was sucking on my door," Larson said of the final restart. "Denny [Hamlin] gave me a shot and i was surprised at how much grip I had. It's pretty hard to beat four tires."
Rookie Brandon Jones finish seventh, with RCR teammate Ty Dillon eighth, Brennan Poole ninth and Brendan Gaughan rounded out the top 10.
There were eight cautions in the race for 54 laps. In the two races combined at Charlotte in 2015, there were just six cautions total in 600 miles of competition.
On Lap 25, a caution flew and took out three of the first six drivers in the running order after they slid through some oil on the track in Turn 3.
It started when pole-sitter, Jones was making a move on race leader Hamlin, but slid in the oil and made contact with the wall. From there his JGR teammate, Daniel Suarez slid and had his car saved until coming back up the track into the wall where he was met by Elliott Sadler. All three drivers went at least one lap down
Suarez rebounded to finish 12th, while Sadler came home 28th and Jones 31st.
Next weekend, the XFINITY Series will tackle Pocono Raceway for the first time in series history.
As well as his second victory of the year it was his second $100,000 bonus after finishing highest the highest of the four Dash 4 Cash drivers. Each race that he has won this season has come when he won the bonus.
"I think it's a good spot for us," Jones said about his performance, reminiscing that there is a Chase race at Dover in the fall. "Today we had a car and hopefully that will be a race where we can grab ourselves a win and advance into the next round. We're racing for wins at this point of the year and trying to get as many points as we can before the Chase."
Staying out under caution, Darrell Wallace, Jr. restarted in fourth with five laps to go. Pushing Jones to the lead, the driver of the No. 6 found himself in second with a shot at his first career victory in the XFINITY Series.
"For all that we went through Friday, 'its like okay man this is your favorite track," Wallace said of his second-place finish. "We really had to work for it. When we fired off in the heat races we made some passes and if we could carry that we would have been fine. I was right for once."
The second-place finish was the highest for an African American in the XFINITY Series history, breaking his own record of third last season in Chicago.
Making his first start of 2016 in any NASCAR division, Alex Bowman came home with a third-place result. During the long 70-lap run that opened up the event, the No. 88 car went from fifth to the lead and in the process led 33 laps.
This was the first of nine races on the schedule for Bowman, a guy that thought he had a full-time ride in the Cup Series until NASCAR Media Week in January. Since then he competed in a few open wheel events, but later realized that it was discouraging knowing he wasn't in NASCAR.
"I hope my phone starts ringing and I get some more races," Bowman said of his effort Saturday which tied a career-high finish. "I've got nine races this year and at this point in my career those nine races are really going to define where it goes. I think with my experience in the Cup Series the last two years I have to go win some races. I have to prove that I should be here."
Justin Allgaier grabbed fourth-place after starting from pole. The No. 7 car was out front for the opening lap, but quickly faded to fifth where he ran near for the majority of the 120 laps. This is his eighth top-10 finish in 10 races this year.
Taking the lead on Lap 2, Ty Dillon went on to lead the next 11 circuits. During that long green flag run he quickly fell outside of the top 10, barely remaining on the lead lap before the first caution flew. With the late caution the No. 3 car got a good restart and drove up to round out the top five.
Elliott Sadler rebounded to a sixth-place result after starting from 32nd. In time trials, the No. 1 machine posted the third fastest lap, but jumped the initial restart and was black-flagged. In the first 20 laps of the race he had made his way inside the top 15. From there he just kept going.
Joey Logano, the first Cup Series regular finished seventh on Saturday. At a track where he has four career wins, the No. 22 car struggled throughout the day hovering around the back half of the top 10.
The two other Joe Gibbs Racing cars finished eighth and ninth. Matt Tift hung on to eight-place as Daniel Suarez was penalized late in the event, resulting in a ninth-place effort.
Two of the Richard Childress Racing cars had problems that didn't cause cautions, resulting in multiple laps down. Brandon Jones had a tire rub 20 laps in and made an unscheduled pit stop to repair the damage. He finished 25th. Paul Menard was running sixth when he had a tire go down losing three laps and finishing 29th.
The XFINITY Series has a week off before going to Charlotte on Memorial Day weekend. Sadler holds a four point lead on Suarez through 10 events.
The last time the Cup Series ran at Dover, Harvick led 355 laps en route to securing a Chase birth into the second round of the Chase. On Friday, it was a lap of 165.145 mph that secured the pole for the No. 4 car. Had that lap been ran in qualifying it would have set a new track record.
"That definitely changes your approach," Harvick said of the possibility of rain. "That's what the forecast looked like all week and we just decided to come with qualifying trim."
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will line up second after having one of his better practices of the year. At a lap of 164.707 mph it will be his best start since he was awarded the pole at Daytona last summer. The qualifying for that event was also postponed due to rain.
"Hopefully we can get some practice in tomorrow and work on the race setup a bit," said Earnhardt.
The Joe Gibbs Racing duo of Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards will start alongside in Row 2. Each driver has a victory on the concrete at Dover and both have already clinched a spot in the Chase this season.
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. will round out the top five, running a lap in practice at 163.815 mph.
The other two JGR cars will lineup inside of the top 10, Denny Hamlin in sixth and Matt Kenseth in 10th.
Chase Elliott is the highest starting rookie in 13th. While fellow Rookie of the Year competitor Brian Scott was the only driver to make a race run in practice. He will start 17th on Sunday.
10-time Dover winner, Jimmie Johnson will start from 21st, with Joey Logano alongside in 22nd. Other notable drivers starting toward the rear are Jamie McMurray 24th, Danica Patrick 31st and Tony Stewart 34th.
There are two practice sessions on Saturday to prepare for the AAA 400 Drive for Autism. Johnson is the defending winner of the event.
Immediately following the Cheez-it 355 at the Glen in 2015, race winner, Joey Logano began the process of tearing up Watkins Glen International as the track fully repaved its entire 3.4-mile layout.
Nine months later cars hit the track for a two day Goodyear tire test in preparation for NASCAR’s annual visit to the Finger Lakes region.
Drivers included in the two day test were Logano, 2014 Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards Kasey Kahne and Trevor Bayne.
Teams quickly found out that the speeds have increased and there is more grip in the racetrack. Over the past several years the bumps in the race track had become more severe, causing the repave.
“It’s really hard to tell,” Edwards said of how the higher speeds will affect the racing. “You never know how it’s going to work with a new surface and a new tire. The racing here always seems to be really competitive.”
Though there were no times posted, the word was that speeds are approaching the track record set by Jeff Gordon in 2014. On Tuesday, Harvick ran over 300 miles around the new pavement, which is almost 100 miles greater than the race length in August (220 miles).
Often times when tracks get repaved they gain a lot of grip and the tire wear is very low. What makes the road courses exciting is the close racing, but also that tire wear doesn’t mean a whole lot.
“Basically what they did is they took a track that didn’t have a whole bunch of tire wear to start off with and repaved it so you don’t have a bunch of tire wear again,” Logano said of the new surface. “It’s very similar so it’s not going to change the racing a whole bunch.”
1989 was the last time that Watkins Glen completely repaved the layout of the course. $12 million later and increased speeds have the drivers wondering what race conditions will be like because the sole purpose of this test was to find the right tire to bring back in August.
Restarts are often wild at the famed road course, but if the tires don’t wear it makes every position even that much more important. Logano admitted that he isn’t afraid to put it three-wide heading into a narrow Turn One.
With only three “passing zones” at the Glen it makes restarts crucial. Turn One, the “bus stop” and Turn 10 are the primary zones where drivers will make a move on one another. On the other parts of the track it is a little more difficult due to the width of the track.
“If the track gets rubber throughout the weekend it’s going to be very tough to pass,” said Kahne. “It’s up to Goodyear on what tire they can bring to this race that can withstand the heat and load of a full run and not have tire issues. If it does we will pass and if not it will be all about restarts.”
This was one of two tests this season at the 2.45-mile track. On July 26-27, WGI is scheduled to host an organization test for Cup teams, allowing one team per organization to test before the race on August 7.
Some of the other benefits of the new surface is the concrete pit road that was installed. There are also bigger concrete rumble strips in the turns, compared to previous years.
Each year WGI puts on one of the best events of the season, it will be intriguing to see if the new pavement helps or hurts the on-track action.