Busch paid for not having a full set of new tyres by getting passed by Kahne on lap 167, putting Kahne in prime position to benefit from Hamlin suffering from a suspected loose right rear tyre affecting handling to take the lead on lap 190. He held the lead until Landon Cassill hit the wall on lap 237 to bring out a caution that facilitated the next round of pit stops.
The field was once again led to the green flag by a JGR car - but this time it wasn't Hamlin or Busch, but the newest member of the driver line-up, Matt Kenseth. He took off at the restart ahead of Jimmie Johnson and with Hamlin, Kahne, Kevin Harvick and Greg Biffle in pursuit.
Richard Petty Motorsports' Aric Almirola tapped the wall thanks to a cut tyre just before the midway point of the race but didn't bring out a caution - not immediately, anyway. He limped back to the pits, got a new set of tyres and ventured out again - and promptly spun in turn 3 which did finally bring out a caution and put him out of the race.
"We were having a solid day," said Almirola after being cleared by the in-field care centre. "Coming off pit road somebody ran into my left-rear and I guess it cut the tyre down," he said of the initial incident. "We took off on that restart and I was out of control and crashed. We just had a flat left-rear."
Some new players were now coming into contention in the race, having used the first half of the event to get on top of some early initial set-up and handling problems. The Penske Racing duo of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano in particular suddenly seemed to spark into life, the two taking it in turns to do battle with Hamlin to break into the top five.
A mixture of tyre strategies in the next round of stop - under a yellow on lap 322 for a hard solo hit against the wall for Dave Blaney in turn 1 - saw Kenseth drop out of the lead to sixth place, the first time all day that no JGR car was in the top five - which now consisted of Gordon, Kahne, Harvick, Logano and Keselowski. Gordon took off at the front and was pursued by Logano, while Hamlin rectified the JGR situation by quickly slipping into third place.
That put Hamlin right behind Logano, his former team mate at JGR last year. The two drivers had been having a simmering feud ever since Daytona, when Hamlin had felt he'd been blocked by Logano and took to Twitter to post a subtle swipe aimed at Logano, which had gone down as well as you'd imagine. But Hamlin denied that this tension had been behind what transpired next, as Logano slipped off the back of Gordon's car and promptly got hit from behind by Hamlin and duly wrecked.
"No, it didn't have anything to do with that," insisted Hamlin when asked if he'd been trying to administer some bump-and-run payback for previous grievances. "You've got to control your car and he slid up into me and really he would have been in the garage with no radiator in it had I not checked up twice." However, Hamlin also added: "I meant to run into him. Didn't mean to spin him out," indicating that he'd perhaps seen a chance to release some of that pent-up frustration by delivering a bump-and-run that had ended up being more brutal than Hamlin had intended.
"I was racing for the lead and it's frustrating," fumed Logano. "That's a freaking genius behind the wheel of the #11 car - probably the worst teammate I ever had, so I learned that now," he added. "He decided to run in the back of me, so, whatever. I have a scorecard and I'm not putting up with that. What goes around comes around."
Hamlin almost spun out at the restart on lap 354 which meant he dropped from second place behind Gordon to sixth place, and lucky it wasn't worse. His team mate Kenseth was flying the JGR colours once again, now competing with Kahne and Johnson for second place, but Gordon looked comfortably in control of the race - right up to lap 391, when suddenly a tyre blew on the #24 and was turned sharply into the outside wall at turn 4.