Jimmie Johnson continued his victorious march towards his fourth consecutive Sprint Cup title with his third Chase win at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
The reigning champion dominated every practice session, started from pole position and led the most laps to claim a perfect score that allows him to stretch his lead in the standing to 90 points over his Hendrick team-mate Mark Martin.
Johnson was challenged by different drivers at various stages of the race, but in the end the #48 car surged ahead when it most mattered.
In the early stages Denny Hamlin looked capable of keeping Johnson at bay since he took the lead from him on lap 71, but his victory hopes were dashed by an engine failure that brought his race to a halt before the halfway mark.
Jeff Gordon gambled twice on taking two new tyres instead of four and both times he succeeded at gaining track position. However, his grip deficit surfaced as the runs got longer and he could not keep up with his Hendrick team-mate.
Matt Kenseth led a good number of laps as did Gordon, after gambling with his tyre strategy early in the race. However it was Kasey Kahne who really showed he had something for Johnson, dominating the second half of the race.
The Richard Petty driver was able to lead the race with a gap that he built up to more than seven seconds, when the race went under green during 97 consecutive laps, between the sixth and seven caution periods of the night.
Kahne led the field into the pits for the final time on lap 291 out of the 334 scheduled. Although his team performed a quicker four-tyre change, Johnson was able to narrowly beat him out of pit road, as he made the most of the first stall he was entitled to for getting pole.
After that Jeff Gordon briefly challenged his team-mate, who was able to remain in control until the chequered flag. Behind him Gordon, Kahne and Kenseth fought for second best, while he pulled away to claim his sixth win of the season, also his sixth at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
"I thought the #9 [Kasey Kahne] had this thing in the bag," said Johnson. "On that last pitstop on when it came to the restarts we had what we needed for five or six quick laps. This thing was fast. it worked.
"The perfect weekend which is what (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) always wanted to do. Win every practice, qualifying and the race and we got it."
Kenseth struggled during the last few restarts and instead of putting the pressure on Johnson he had to fend off first Gordon and then Kenseth. In the end the Roush Fenway driver got the better of him, winning the battle for best of the rest.
"I always have a problem when I start off the front row this whole year with restarts," said Kahne. "I just spin my tyres. I try not to give it throttle and don't spin my tyres and I get pushed from behind.
"Matt (Kenseth) was up there and a couple other guys that seem to be there all night. Jimmie (Johnson) was one of them. We weren't good enough that final run. We were the best car at times, but the final run when it counted, we weren't. Jimmie showed up and beat us all."
Gordon was able to beat a charging Joey Logano to fourth place, a result that allows him to jump up to third in the Chase standing, although he is already more than a hundred points behind Johnson.
Title contenders Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart salvaged 11th and 13th places in the end, but were never in contention for victory. Newman had an incident with Greg Biffle, that brought out the final caution when he tapped the rear of Biffle's machine at the exit of Turn 4, sending him spinning through the grass.
They were among several Chase drivers who hit trouble as did former points leader Martin. The veteran damaged the front end of his car during a restart on lap 125, when he got into Juan Pablo Montoya as the inside line bunched up before the green flag waved.
Martin was able to finish on the lead lap thanks to the last few cautions, while Montoya got the worst part, as the impact from Martin damaged the right rear quarter panel of his car, causing it to be off-balance from then on.
The Colombian quickly lost a lap after the incident and then spun while struggling with an ill-handling car, being unable to recover. Before that, he had looked even faster than Johnson at one stage, running as high as second.
"They all accelerated and they all checked up," said Montoya about the incident, which has effectively cost him three spots in the Chase, where now ranks 195 points off from Johnson.
"Every time the #24 (Jeff Gordon) restarted it was the same thing. It is what it is and you've just got to move on. We had one of our fastest cars. Not much we can do. We worked as hard as we could and we did all what we thought was possible and today the best we could do was 35th.
Brian Vickers also had a night to forget, finishing right ahead of Montoya in 34th, while Carl Edwards' miserable race ended with an engine failure after he struggled with the handling of his car since the early stages of the race.
Pos Driver Car Laps 1. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 334 2. Matt Kenseth Ford 334 3. Kasey Kahne Dodge 334 4. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 334 5. Joey Logano Toyota 334 6. Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 334 7. Casey Mears Chevrolet 334 8. Kyle Busch Toyota 334 9. Martin Truex Jr Chevrolet 334 10. Kurt Busch Dodge 334 11. Ryan Newman Chevrolet 334 12. Brad Keselowski Chevrolet 334 13. Tony Stewart Chevrolet 334 14. Jeff Burton Chevrolet 334 15. David Reutimann Toyota 334 16. Greg Biffle Ford 334 17. Mark Martin Chevrolet 334 18. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 334 19. David Stremme Dodge 334 20. David Ragan Ford 334 21. Reed Sorenson Dodge 334 22. Marcos Ambrose Toyota 333 23. AJ Allmendinger Dodge 333 24. Mike Bliss Chevrolet 333 25. David Gilliland Toyota 333 26. Elliott Sadler Dodge 332 27. Paul Menard Ford 332 28. Scott Speed Toyota 332 29. Bill Elliott Ford 332 30. Robby Gordon Toyota 332 31. Bobby Labonte Ford 331 32. Michael Waltrip Toyota 331 33. Jamie McMurray Ford 331 34. Brian Vickers Toyota 330 35. Juan Montoya Chevrolet 330 36. John Andretti Chevrolet 330 37. Terry Labonte Toyota 329 38. Dale Earnhardt Jr Chevrolet 304 39. Carl Edwards Ford 299 40. Sam Hornish Jr Dodge 298 41. Max Papis Toyota 286 42. Denny Hamlin Toyota 192 43. Joe Nemechek Toyota 26
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