Brad Keselowski opened the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase by fighting back from a pit delay for victory at Chicagoland.
An additional pitstop for a loose wheel dropped the Penske Ford down the order early on, but going into the closing stages he joined two other drivers on comeback runs in the battle for the win.
Long-time race leader Kevin Harvick had overcome exactly the same pit problem as Keselowski, while Ganassi's rookie Kyle Larson fought through from last to first after a practice crash forced him to switch to his back-up Chevrolet.
Having narrowly missed out on a Chase spot, Larson looked capable of beginning the title shootout by defeating all the championship contenders, as he battled with Harvick on what turned out to be the penultimate restart.
But Keselowski was right behind them, and with 17 of the 267 laps to go he surged through the middle of the two Chevrolets while they diced and started to get away.
Another yellow, caused by Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr colliding, prompted a final restart with six laps left, but Keselowski had no trouble pulling clear for his fifth win of 2014 and an early pass straight through to stage two of the Chase.
Jeff Gordon, another lead contender all afternoon, came forward to fight Larson for second, with the pair swapping places incessantly as Larson favoured a bold high line.
He eventually went too high and brushed the wall, allowing Gordon to secure the runner-up spot.
Harvick fell back to fifth behind Joey Logano as both chased Larson over the line.
Chase contenders filled most of the top 15 spots, with Denny Hamlin sixth ahead of Busch brothers Kyle and Kurt - who survived contact with each other in the closing laps. Both Kurt and 10th-placed Matt Kenseth also managed to spin in the pit entry during the race.
The only non-Chase interlopers in the top 10 were the two Ganassi cars. Larson's team-mate Jamie McMurray led in the early stages and finished ninth, despite all slapping the wall during the race.
The first Chase runner to hit major trouble was title underdog Aric Almirola, whose Richard Petty Ford blew its engine while running a strong sixth 37 laps from the finish.
Results - 267 laps: Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Brad Keselowski Penske Ford 2h48m50.000s Chase 2. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet +1.760s Chase 3. Kyle Larson Ganassi Chevrolet +2.270s 4. Joey Logano Penske Ford +2.790s Chase 5. Kevin Harvick Stewart-Haas Chevrolet +3.203s Chase 6. Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Toyota +4.223s Chase 7. Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Toyota +4.827s Chase 8. Kurt Busch Stewart-Haas Chevrolet +5.293s Chase 9. Jamie McMurray Ganassi Chevrolet +5.406s 10. Matt Kenseth Joe Gibbs Toyota +6.160s Chase 11. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet +6.516s Chase 12. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet +6.698s Chase 13. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Chevrolet +8.320s Chase 14. Martin Truex Jr Furniture Row Chevrolet +8.812s 15. Ryan Newman Childress Chevrolet +9.081s Chase 16. Austin Dillon Childress Chevrolet +9.617s 17. Ricky Stenhouse Jr Roush Fenway Ford +12.071s 18. Tony Stewart Stewart-Haas Chevrolet +14.013s 19. Danica Patrick Stewart-Haas Chevrolet +18.577s 20. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford -1 lap Chase 21. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet -1 lap 22. AJ Allmendinger JTG Daugherty Chevrolet -2 laps Chase 23. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford -2 laps Chase 24. Brian Vickers Waltrip Toyota -2 laps 25. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford -2 laps 26. Casey Mears Germain Chevrolet -3 laps 27. Justin Allgaier HScott Chevrolet -3 laps 28. Landon Cassill Hillman Chevrolet -4 laps 29. Reed Sorensen Baldwin Chevrolet -5 laps 30. Cole Whitt BK Toyota -5 laps 31. David Ragan Front Row Ford -5 laps 32. Michael McDowell Leavine Ford -5 laps 33. Josh Wise Parsons Chevrolet -5 laps 34. David Gilliland Front Row Ford -6 laps 35. Alex Bowman BK Toyota -6 laps 36. Joe Nemechek Robinson Toyota -9 laps 37. Joey Gase Go FAS Ford -10 laps 38. Travis Kvapil FAS Lane Ford -11 laps Retirements: Clint Bowyer Waltrip Toyota 244 laps Michael Annett Baldwin Chevrolet 233 laps* Aric Almirola Petty Ford 230 laps Chase Ryan Truex BK Toyota 184 laps Mike Bliss Baldwin Chevrolet 13 laps * Running again at finish
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