Carl Edwards won the Richmond NASCAR Sprint Cup race as the Chase field was set and Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski headlined those missing out.
Kurt Busch sealed his and the underdog Furniture Row's Chase place with a battling runner-up spot, while Ryan Newman narrowly missed out on a title shot despite a storming late-race performance that ended with third place.
For most of the evening the lead fight was between Kurt Busch and Keselowski, in a fascinating contest that varied as their cars surged or slumped across stints and Furniture Row either had sublime or troubled pitstops.
Keselowski dropped out of contention when the yellow came out midway through the penultimate pitstop sequence following a crash for Jimmie Johnson, trapping the champion in the midfield.
The same misfortune also interrupted Kevin Harvick's victory bid just as he had hit the front, with both having pitted under green moments before the caution.
Into the closing stages Roush Fenway driver Edwards and Kurt Busch were making the running, until Newman suddenly began a blistering charge from seventh to first.
A win would have cemented his Chase place, but when Clint Bowyer - another earlier leader - spun in the final laps, the leaders all pitted and Newman fell back again.
He could only get back to third, as Edwards beat Paul Menard (who took just two tyres at the stops) away at the final restart and then held Busch at bay to clinch the win.
Jamie McMurray was competitive throughout on the way to fourth ahead of Menard and brief race leader Matt Kenseth, who starts the Chase as top seed.
Martin Truex Jr scrapped to seventh place and therefore earned the final Chase wilcard spot on a tie-break over Newman.
Polesitter Gordon led for the first 49 laps but began tumbling backwards with high tyre wear.
A loose wheel then left him two laps down and outside the top 20, before he fought back to an eighth place that was not quite sufficient for the Chase.
Keselowski's hopes of a successful title defence faded away as he ultimately finished only 17th.
His Penske team-mate Joey Logano was off the pace all night and finished a distant 22nd, but clung on to a Chase spot.
It was a terrible race for erstwhile outright points leader Johnson.
Having missed qualifying due to the birth of his second daughter, Johnson struggled to make any progress from the back. A pitlane speeding penalty and a battery problem delayed him further even before his tyre-induced crash.
Final Chase line-up: Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Joey Logano, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne and Martin Truex Jr.
Results - 400 laps: Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford 2h51m53.000s 2. Kurt Busch Furniture Row Chevrolet +0.669s 3. Ryan Newman Stewart-Haas Chevrolet +0.812s 4. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet +1.766s 5. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet +2.024s 6. Matt Kenseth Joe Gibbs Toyota +2.124s 7. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota +2.310s 8. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet +2.520s 9. Mark Martin Stewart-Haas Chevrolet +2.889s 10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr Roush Fenway Ford +2.925s 11. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet +3.027s 12. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford +3.103s 13. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet +3.363s 14. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Chevrolet +3.520s 15. AJ Allmendinger JTG Daugherty Toyota +3.643s 16. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet +3.694s 17. Brad Keselowski Penske Ford +3.745s 18. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet +4.011s 19. Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Toyota +4.907s 20. Aric Almirola Petty Ford +5.241s 21. Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Toyota +1 lap 22. Joey Logano Penske Ford +1 lap 23. David Gilliland Front Row Ford +1 lap 24. Brian Vickers Waltrip Toyota +1 lap 25. Clint Bowyer Waltrip Toyota +2 laps 26. Casey Mears Germain Ford +3 laps 27. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford +3 laps 28. Travis Kvapil BK Toyota +3 laps 29. David Ragan Front Row Ford +3 laps 30. Danica Patrick Stewart-Haas Chevrolet +4 laps 31. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet +4 laps 32. David Reutimann BK Toyota +5 laps 33. Tony Raines Circle Sport Chevrolet +5 laps 34. Landon Cassill Hillman Chevrolet +5 laps 35. Ryan Truex Phoenix Chevrolet +5 laps 36. JJ Yeley Baldwin Chevrolet +7 laps 37. Ken Schrader FAS Lane Ford +7 laps 38. David Stremme Swan Toyota +9 laps 39. Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota +12 laps 40. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet +28 laps Retirements: Josh Wise Front Row Ford 142 laps Reed Sorenson Leavine Ford 126 laps Michael McDowell Parsons Ford 76 laps
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