Jeff Gordon ended a 66-race win-less streak by beating Kyle Busch to victory in Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix.
"Pinch me!" said Gordon while jumping off his trademark #24 Chevrolet in Victory Lane after finally getting back to his winning ways, claiming his 83rd career victory one year, 10 months and 22 days after winning for the last time at NASCAR's top level.
The 39-year-old led a race-high 138 laps but following the final restart with 22 laps remaining, he had to chase the leading Toyota of Busch, who passed Tony Stewart for the lead shortly after the green flag waved for the last time.
Busch was hoping to complete a sweep of wins in all three of NASCAR's top championships for the second time in his career, having won on Friday in the Truck Series event, and taken victory again on Saturday in the Nationwide Series. However Gordon had different plans in his Drive to End Hunger-sponsored Impala, as he started to put pressure on the Joe Gibbs driver as the lap-count faded.
Gordon eventually got to the rear bumper of Busch with nine laps to go, almost passing him at the exit of Turn 4. He got side-by-side with his rival along the front-stretch, kept his line entering Turn 1 and made contact with Busch as both drifted onto the 11-degree banking.
As Gordon came out of Turn 2 he had already opened a gap that he was able to stretch over the final eight laps to claim a very popular win.
"I just beat Kyle Busch!" screamed Gordon on his radio after preventing his rival from sweeping the weekend at Phoenix, while claiming his first win with new crew chief Alan Gustafson, who had been Busch's right hand man during his time at Hendrick Motorsports.
Gordon's win allowed him to tie Cale Yarborough in the record books in fifth in the all-time list of race winners, Gordon being the leading active driver in that ranking - in which he is only one win shy of third-placed Darrell Waltrip.
"I've not been in position to put pressure on the leader and force him to make mistakes to be in control of the situation in a very long time and that's what I loved about today," said Gordon. "To be in that position was a very cool feeling. You feel like you're in control of your destiny.
"It got a little hairy getting into [Turn] 1. I was shocked I even got underneath [Busch] but when I did I thought 'I'm going to check up early' because I was afraid he was going to do the swap-over on me on the exit. He's pretty notorious about that.
"I drove in easy to try to get a good exit out of [Turn] 2 and not let him do the swap-over and I kind of felt him on my right rear, my car got real loose and we just banged and slid up the racetrack. My spotter Jeff [Dickerson] said 'clear', I drove off and he was three to four car lengths behind me.
"I thought 'yes, let's go!' Then it was just putting some laps together."
Gordon's race-winning car showed proof of what was an eventful start to the race, which saw two multi-car incidents in the first 70 laps. The first was caused by Busch making contact with polesitter Carl Edwards exiting Turn 2, causing the Roush Fenway racer to drive over the grass and sustain damage to the front end of his Ford.
Edwards lost control after that and slid towards the barrier with the front wheels locked, forcing Gordon against the wall as well. However his Hendrick crew was able to quickly get the right front fender back in shape under the caution, putting Gordon back in contention.
Only eight laps later during the following restart, a multi-car crash involving 13 drivers ignited when Red Bull's Brian Vickers got loose and spun at the very same spot after a brush with Matt Kenseth, resulting in a brief red-flag stoppage. Gordon avoided that incident and found himself back up the order, taking the lead for the first time 10 laps later.
Similarly Busch was able to recover from his incident with Edwards and another earlier close call, becoming a contender at the front for most of the day but never quite showing as much pace as Gordon did throughout the afternoon.
"I think [Gordon] was on a mission today, that's for sure and when Jeff Gordon has a good car and he has the opportunity to beat you, he's going to beat you so," said Busch. "There's no doubt about that. He's my hero and I've always watched him and what he's been able to accomplish over the years. It's no surprise that he beat us.
"We were good. If you look at it, we were better than the third-place car by a little way, kind of like yesterday. Seemed like the front two would just kind of walk away from it. But there's always that one car that's got to ruin the whole weekend, and it had to be the #24 car."
His second place has boosted Busch up to the the lead of the standings ahead of his brother Kurt, who rounded out another solid race with eighth. Reigning champion Jimmie Johnson was third, recovering from a poor qualifying that was the common denominator for all Hendrick cars as they ran much stronger during the race.
Kevin Harvick spun after being hit from behind while trying to avoid the Edwards incident, but in the end the Richard Childress racer managed to race his way up to fourth ahead of Stewart Haas' Ryan Newman and Red Bull's Kasey Kahne.
Stewart led on the final restart after changing only two tyres on his last stop while his rivals all took on a full new set, his strategy drawing a seventh-place finish.
Richard Petty's AJ Allmendinger was ninth in his Ford, while Hendrick's Dale Earnhardt Jr rounded out the top 10, recovering from an unscheduled stop close to the end for a suspected loose wheel, which initially dropped him a lap down.
Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne ended up crashing heavily against the wall when he made contact with Travis Kvapil's Ford at the end of the front-stretch early in the race.
Results - 312 laps Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet 3h01m49.000s 2. Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota + 1.137s 3. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet + 2.500s 4. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet + 2.827s 5. Ryan Newman Stewart Haas Chevrolet + 3.697s 6. Kasey Kahne Red Bull Toyota + 4.161s 7. Tony Stewart Stewart Haas Chevrolet + 6.262s 8. Kurt Busch Penske Dodge + 9.041s 9. AJ Allmendinger Petty Ford + 9.176s 10. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet + 9.500s 11. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota + 10.853s 12. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford + 10.927s 13. Mark Martin Hendrick Chevrolet + 11.545s 14. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota + 15.323s 15. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge + 1 lap 16. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford + 1 lap 17. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet + 1 lap 18. Casey Mears Germain Toyota + 1 lap 19. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 1 lap 20. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford + 1 lap 21. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota + 2 laps 22. David Gilliland Front Row Ford + 2 laps 23. Bill Elliott Phoenix Chevrolet + 3 laps 24. Mike Skinner FAS Lane Ford + 4 laps 25. Tony Raines Front Row Ford + 6 laps 26. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet + 36 laps 27. Clint Bowyer Childress Chevrolet + 52 laps 28. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford + 60 laps 29. David Reutimann Waltrip Toyota + 66 laps 30. Brian Vickers Red Bull Toyota + 74 laps 31. Andy Lally TRG Chevrolet + 75 laps 32. Robby Gordon Gordon Dodge + 76 laps Non-finishers: Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota 213 laps Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevrolet 213 laps* Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet 126 laps David Ragan Roush Fenway Ford 125 laps JJ Yeley Whitney Chevrolet 72 laps Landon Cassill Germain Toyota 68 laps Travis Kvapil Front Row Ford 66 laps Trevor Bayne Wood Brothers Ford 49 laps Michael McDowell HP Toyota 43 laps Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet 27 laps Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 22 laps * Running again at chequered flag