Kurt Busch dominated the Kobalt Tools 500 but still had to work hard for victory, overtaking Carl Edwards in a green-white-chequered finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Busch led 234 laps of the 330-lap race, but his win was not without its drama.
The Penske racer was in a league of his own for most of the day but still struggled at times with the poor grip that made drivers work hard for their money at the mile-and-a-half oval.
The former Sprint Cup champion brushed the wall twice and came close to hitting it many more times while taking a very high line on the banking all afternoon. No-one else seemed to be able to run that close to the wall with such consistency and speed as Busch.
In the early running, he overcame some adversity after his crew faced problems with the refuelling of his car. He had to concede the lead during the third caution of the day after being forced to pit again so that his crew could fix the problem in order to fill up the tank of his car.
Later he had to fight to regain the lead from Jeff Gordon, who was one of only two drivers able to get close to him. The Hendrick driver needed help from his pitcrew to steal the lead away from Busch during the sixth caution of the day, but 47 laps later the order was reestablished as Busch stormed past the outside of Gordon.
Brian Vickers then put Busch under pressure in the closing stages of the race, although he never really got close enough to attempt a pass.
When it looked like everything was said and done, a caution came out just six laps from the chequered flag. Busch's crew chief Pat Tryson had to decide whether to pit for tyres or not, and he eventually elected to do so.
Vickers and Gordon followed him down pitroad changing to a new set of Goodyears, but it was Carl Edwards who emerged ahead after taking only two new tyres.
On the final restart Busch easily got by the Roush Fenway racer, with Gordon also passing Edwards for second.
"It was incredible, it was an overall team effort," said Busch after taking his 18th career win. "I had my hands full but had a great race car. Our Dodge Charger was unbelievable. Just from the get-go of the race, I knew that we had something special; it was up to me to protect it.
"I started sliding around mid-part in the race and had to get back to the old school 'race the racetrack' and don't race the competition."
Gordon felt he had a run on Busch on the final restart but the Penske driver blocked his attack, putting him to race Edwards for second. His second place finish allows him to extend his lead in the championship and showed that his team has probably overcome at last the set-up issues that hampered their season last year.
"I really thought that restart was our one shot at it." Gordon said. "[Busch] was better than us in the long run, I know the No.83 (Vickers) had some trouble or something there in the pits and I got a run on the No.2 (Busch) and he kind of turned me in the fence so I had to check up and then we were just wide open.
"I thought we had cleared the No.99 (Edwards) and then Kurt got in there a little hot, got me tight, and it was just a great race, great battle."
Edwards seemed to have the speed to contend for victory but his team's decision to go for two tyres on the last pitstop didn't quite work as expected. He complained of his team's pitbox selection - between Earnhardt's and Gordon's - as several times during the race he lost in the pits what he had earned on the track.
"Kurt had been fast all day, so I knew he was the guy to beat," Edwards said. "He was right there behind me with four tyres and I kind of felt like a sitting duck there, pun intended. We got down into turn one and he got to the outside of me and that was it, so I was fighting with Jeff there to try to get everything we could.
"Third place, considering our pit debacle down there. We were boxed in. It was just a bad pit stall selection and it didn't work out like we planned, but we made the most of it."
Kevin Harvick was fourth in the end, recovering from being two laps down at one point. He was one of several drivers to get caught a lap down when the third caution of the day came out on lap 68 when most drivers had just pitted for fuel and tyres under green, while the leader had yet to pit. Only 15 cars were on the lead lap after the leader pitted under caution.
Brian Vickers finished fifth after a delayed last pitstop put him out of contention for victory.
Jimmie Johnson, who led 11 laps during the race, had to settle for ninth ahead of Martin Truex Jr, who also led a lap and got a solid top 10 recovering from a painful Saturday with kidney stones.
Engine failures didn't cease on the Ford camp, with Travis Kvapil and Bobby Labonte both retiring with smoking Roush-Yates engines. Mike Bliss (Chevrolet) and Marcos Ambrose (Toyota) also retired with engine-related issues.
It was a tough day for the rookies as well, as both Scott Speed and Joey Logano made contact with the wall. Speed was involved in an incident with David Ragan on lap 268 and his race finished on the spot, while Logano made contact with the barrier in the closing laps, but still managed to make it to the chequered flag.
Polesitter Mark Martin hit trouble once again when a right-rear tyre blew on lap 217 causing extensive damage to his car. Although he stayed on the lead lap following the incident, he had a lenghty stop for repairs, which dropped him down to a 31st-place finish.
Pos Driver Car Laps 1. Kurt Busch Dodge 330 2. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 330 3. Carl Edwards Ford 330 4. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 330 5. Brian Vickers Toyota 330 6. Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 330 7. Kasey Kahne Dodge 330 8. Tony Stewart Chevrolet 330 9. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 330 10. Martin Truex Jr Chevrolet 330 11. Dale Earnhardt Jr Chevrolet 330 12. Matt Kenseth Ford 330 13. Denny Hamlin Toyota 329 14. Jeff Burton Chevrolet 329 15. Jamie McMurray Ford 328 16. Casey Mears Chevrolet 328 17. A.J. Allmendinger Dodge 328 18. Kyle Busch Toyota 327 19. David Ragan Ford 327 20. Elliott Sadler Dodge 327 21. Aric Almirola Chevrolet 327 22. Ryan Newman Chevrolet 327 23. David Stremme Dodge 326 24. David Gilliland Chevrolet 326 25. Michael Waltrip Toyota 326 26. Robby Gordon Toyota 326 27. Juan Montoya Chevrolet 325 28. Paul Menard Ford 325 29. John Andretti Chevrolet 325 30. Joey Logano Toyota 324 31. Mark Martin Chevrolet 316 32. David Reutimann Toyota 305 33. Reed Sorenson Dodge 264 34. Greg Biffle Ford 262 35. Scott Speed Toyota 262 36. Bill Elliott Ford 201 37. Sam Hornish Jr Dodge 199 38. Marcos Ambrose Toyota 179 39. Joe Nemechek Toyota 110 40. Bobby Labonte Ford 103 41. Dave Blaney Toyota 82 42. Travis Kvapil Ford 32 43. Mike Bliss Dodge 21
Autosport has produced a standalone special magazine to celebrate our 70th birthday. All current print subscribers will receive a copy for free. To order your copy of the 196-page Autosport 70th Anniversary issue, please go to: autosport.com/autosport70th