Clint Bowyer claimed NASCAR Sprint Cup victory at Richmond on a fuel-economy run, while Jeff Gordon finished second to secure a Chase spot.
The final race of the regular season turned out to be dramatic for those fighting for the final play-off wildcard spot, which changed hands several times during the rain-affected Saturday night event.
Following a delay of around two hours, the race finally got underway only to be stopped on lap 152, still 48 short of half-distance, for another 51-minute pause before the weather allowed the event to resume.
During the first 200 laps it seemed unlikely that Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch would lose his wildcard spot as he drove a controlled race despite battling handling issues with his #18 Toyota. At the time many of his rivals for a Chase spot were either a lap down or not showing enough speed to contend for a win.
However it all changed during the sixth caution of the race, caused by further rain, as some of the frontrunners elected to pit while others, like Busch, chose to stay out and gain track position, which ultimately turned out to be the wrong call.
The JGR racer and another three drivers who restarted from the front would immediately drop back due to their grip handicap, while the Stewart-Haas duo went on to alternate the top spot, Ryan Newman suddenly getting in position to claim a wildcard when passing his team-mate Tony Stewart for the lead 100 laps from the end.
However Bowyer, who had spun earlier on the front-stretch due to a left-rear puncture, came flying back through the field to get the lead 13 laps later. He managed to go the rest of the way without stopping for fuel again on the way to claiming his second win of the season, which places him as the seventh seed starting the Chase.
"Unbelievable," said Bowyer. "To be able to win again, everything's new, [crew chief] Brian Pattie and everybody on this team, I'm so proud of them... To be able to bounce back from that and get a win, get that momentum, heading into this Chase is exactly what we needed to."
But while Bowyer controlled the race up front, Busch's debacle unfolded as he struggled with his worn tyres, dropping a lap down before being called for a new set and fuel on lap 335, having a delayed stop due to a missing lug-nut under green and thus dropping three laps behind leader Bowyer.
Meanwhile Gordon, his main rival for the wildcard spot, was charging through the field. The Hendrick driver recovered from a poor start to his race, when balance issues put him a lap down, but the four-time champion suddenly got in position to snatch the wildcard from Busch in the deciding stages as his rival struggled to make any progress.
Gordon, who had missed on a second season victory last week at Atlanta, passed veteran Mark Martin for second place seven laps from the end with an aggressive move, finishing a second behind Bowyer. Behind him Busch could only manage a 16th-place finish, which meant he missed the Chase by three points over his former team-mate.
"Went from last week to being the most disappointed I've ever been to finish second to the most excited I've ever been to finish second," said Gordon. "Wow, what a race for us!"
As expected, Kasey Kahne locked the fist wildcard thanks to his two wins, meaning all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers will be in title contention during this year's Chase, which starts next week at Chicagoland.
Results - 400 laps: Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Clint Bowyer Waltrip Toyota 2h59m58.000s 2. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet + 1.198s 3. Mark Martin Waltrip Toyota + 1.953s 4. Tony Stewart Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 3.163s 5. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford + 6.446s 6. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet + 10.735s 7. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge + 12.066s 8. Ryan Newman Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 13.043s 9. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford + 13.767s 10. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet + 17.306s 11. Sam Hornish Jr Penske Dodge + 20.578s 12. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Chevrolet + 1 lap 13. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet + 1 lap 14. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet + 1 lap 15. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford + 1 lap 16. Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota + 1 lap 17. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford + 1 lap 18. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota + 1 lap 19. Landon Cassill BK Toyota + 1 lap 20. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 1 lap 21. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota + 1 lap 22. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 2 laps 23. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet + 2 laps 24. Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevrolet + 2 laps 25. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota + 3 laps 26. Aric Almirola Petty Ford + 3 laps 27. Travis Kvapil BK Toyota + 3 laps 28. Kurt Busch Phoenix Chevrolet + 4 laps 29. Casey Mears Germain Ford + 4 laps 30. Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota + 4 laps 31. David Gilliland Front Row Ford + 5 laps 32. David Ragan Front Row Ford + 5 laps 33. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet + 5 laps 34. David Reutimann Baldwin Chevrolet + 7 laps 35. Ken Schrader FAS Lane Ford + 7 laps 36. Stephen Leicht Circle Sport Chevrolet + 10 laps Retirements: David Stremme Inception Toyota 127 laps Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 90 laps Scott Riggs R3 Chevrolet 78 laps Mike Bliss Humphrey Smith Toyota 70 laps Michael McDowell Parsons Ford 63 laps Josh Wise Front Row Ford 57 laps Reed Sorenson Humphrey Smith Chevrolet 57 laps