Clint Bowyer claimed his third NASCAR Sprint Cup victory of the season in a fuel-mileage finish on Saturday night at Charlotte.
The Michael Waltrip Racing driver got back in the championship picture with a calculated drive that saw him stretch his fuel further than his rivals, exactly as he did at Richmond where he had claimed his most recent victory just before the Chase started.
Having pitted for the last time, Bowyer picked up the lead with 25 laps remaining but then saw his gap consistently reduced by Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin, who applied pressure in the closing laps, eventually finishing less than half a second behind him.
Hamlin was followed in a distant third place by Hendrick Motorsports' Jimmie Johnson. Both men cut into Brad Keselowski's Chase lead as the Penske driver finished outside the top 10 for the first time during the play-off, crossing the line in 11th.
Hamlin and Johnson took advantage of the final caution, 110 laps from the end, to top up with fuel again while Keselowski stayed out to keep the lead that was his for 139 of the race's 334 laps.
Without any further chances to save fuel behind the pace car, Keselowski was forced to try to make up for the fuel deficit on the track while retaining the lead. He eventually ran dry and then had a lengthy stop, after which he was unable to come back to contention.
Bowyer's win allowed him to move back up to fourth in the points, 28 behind Keselowski as the Chase tightens entering its final half next weekend.
"Who would have thought in a million years after making this switch, coming over to a new family and everything that was new, that we would be in Victory Lane three times and with five races left we're still in contention for the championship?" said a joyful Bowyer after running out of fuel while trying to celebrate with a burnout.
Polesitter Greg Biffle led those who needed an extra stop for fuel in the end, finishing fourth as the best Ford and moving up three places in the championship.
Hamlin's team-mate Kyle Busch, who ran a similar strategy to Biffle, was fifth while Bowyer's team-mate Mark Martin was sixth and the last car to finish on the lead lap.
In one of the best showings of the season for Toyota, six out of the top 10 finishers were Camrys, including all MWR and JGR entries. That was despite the event coming down to fuel mileage - not a Toyota strong point this season.
Reigning champion Tony Stewart bounced back from damage to the front of his Chevrolet after hitting the back of Keselowski's Dodge during the second restart, and finished 13th, albeit a lap down.
Results - 334 laps: Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Clint Bowyer Waltrip Toyota 3h14m01.000s 2. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota + 0.417s 3. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet + 15.355s 4. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford + 27.280s 5. Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota + 29.759s 6. Mark Martin Waltrip Toyota + 30.258s 7. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford + 1 lap 8. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Chevrolet + 1 lap 9. Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota + 1 lap 10. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota + 1 lap 11. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge + 1 lap 12. Aric Almirola Petty Ford + 1 lap 13. Tony Stewart Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 1 lap 14. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford + 1 lap 15. Sam Hornish Jr Penske Dodge + 1 lap 16. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet + 1 lap 17. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 1 lap 18. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet + 2 laps 19. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 2 laps 20. Ryan Newman Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 2 laps 21. Kurt Busch Furniture Row Chevrolet + 2 laps 22. Trevor Bayne Wood Brothers Ford + 2 laps 23. David Gilliland Front Row Ford + 3 laps 24. AJ Allmendinger Phoenix Chevrolet + 4 laps 25. Travis Kvapil BK Toyota + 4 laps 26. Landon Cassill BK Toyota + 5 laps 27. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet + 6 laps 28. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet + 7 laps 29. Casey Mears Germain Ford + 7 laps 30. David Reutimann Baldwin Chevrolet + 7 laps 31. Michael McDowell Parsons Ford + 8 laps 32. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota + 10 laps 33. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford + 31 laps 34. David Ragan Front Row Ford + 47 laps Retirements: Ricky Stenhouse Jr Roush Fenway Ford 190 laps Timmy Hill FAS Lane Ford 182 laps David Stremme Inception Toyota 62 laps Regan Smith Hendrick Chevrolet 61 laps Mike Bliss Humphrey Smith Toyota 53 laps Scott Speed Leavine Ford 50 laps Reed Sorenson Humphrey Smith Toyota 32 laps JJ Yeley Max Q Ford 30 laps Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet 25 laps