Tony Stewart took his second win of the season in a dramatic finish against Kyle Busch in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
The current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader rounded out a perfect day, leading the most laps and taking his second victory of the season, although it featured some contact in the final yards of the race as Kyle Busch tried to snatch the win away from him on the last lap.
Busch had not led the race all night long but had been in a four-car leading group with Stewart, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson for most of the second half. With two Joe Gibbs Racing cars in that foursome, it looked quite likely the Busch would attempt to work with Hamlin to win the race in the final laps.
As expected, Busch pulled out of Stewart's draft just as they were about to start the final lap. However, he was left with no help from behind as Hamlin dropped back to fourth allowing Stewart to close back on the rear bumper of Busch heading into the final turn of the race.
Out of the last corner Stewart tried to time his attack, putting his nose on the outside of Busch's right rear quarter panel as they approached the chequered flag. However the Gibbs driver tried to block Stewart and as he did so the two cars made contact, sending the #18 Toyota hard against the outside barrier and giving Stewart his second win of the season.
The incident ignited chaos in the field with many cars crashing, including a huge impact from Kasey Kahne against the rear of Busch's stricken machine. Besides a bruised ego for Busch, all drivers involved in the wreck were evaluated and released from the track's infield care centre.
"I hate to see a crash like that and I don't like winning them this way but I don't think I did anything wrong there," Stewart said after winning at Daytona in July for the third time in his career. "I got beside him before he came up and you know, he did what he had to do. He had to protect his line and we did the best we could do there."
Johnson crossed the finish line second behind Stewart after a solid race despite not leading any laps. On the final lap he pushed Stewart to allow him a chance to regain the lead, something that would prove vital to the outcome of the race.
"I was real content riding in fourth," said Johnson. "I had a feeling something would take place coming to the finish and I might be able to improve my position. Everybody was content to stay in line, and you're just waiting for the second-place car to make a move on the leader, and those guys started racing and passing each other, and an opportunity came along and I was in the right lane, and off I went."
Hamlin had probably the second best car of the day, leading 63 laps out of the scheduled 160. However he lost his team-mate's draft in the final lap and had to be happy with a third place finish.
"I wanted one of our cars to win so I decided to go with the #18 [Busch] right there to get around the #14 [Stewart]," Hamlin said.
"It was a move to help a team-mate and instead of us going for a win I felt like our best shot was for us to push Kyle and we got him in the lead. It's just that it took us out of the position and let the #48 [Johnson] get around us. But overall it was a good day for our team."
Carl Edwards finished fourth, while Kurt Busch made a great recovery from an incident with David Ragan with 39 laps to go. After making contact with the Roush Fenway driver his car required some bodywork repairs at the front but he was able to charge back to get his third top ten in as many restrictor-plate races this season.
Marcos Ambrose impressed with sixth in the end, followed by Brian Vickers, while Juan Pablo Montoya survived an incident, a pit-road penalty, twice being a lap down and a mistake on his final pitstop, to score a hard fought ninth place behind Matt Kenseth, which allows him to move one place up to eleventh in the drivers' standings.
Jamie McMurray was tenth, making it three Roush Fenway cars in the top ten, while Ragan finished 13th in the end.
Besides the last lap incident, the other 'big one' of the night came on lap 77 after David Stremme got spun on the backstretch by Kahne.
At least eight cars were involved in the incident including Gordon, who picked up some damage to the right-front corner of his car and also Dale Earnhardt Jr, who would not finish the race. His team-mate Mark Martin did not finish either after crashing on lap 13 following contact with Kenseth out of Turn 2.
The veteran is now outside of the top 12 in the drivers' standings, which continue to be led by Stewart, who added another ten-point bonus towards his Chase seeding with his victory.
Pos Driver Make Laps 1. Tony Stewart Chevrolet 160 2. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 160 3. Denny Hamlin Toyota 160 4. Carl Edwards Ford 160 5. Kurt Busch Dodge 160 6. Marcos Ambrose Toyota 160 7. Brian Vickers Toyota 160 8. Matt Kenseth Ford 160 9. Juan Montoya Chevrolet 160 10. Elliott Sadler Dodge 160 11. Jamie McMurray Ford 160 12. Regan Smith Chevrolet 160 13. David Ragan Ford 160 14. Kyle Busch Toyota 160 15. Kasey Kahne Dodge 160 16. Jeff Burton Chevrolet 160 17. AJ Allmendinger Dodge 160 18. Greg Biffle Ford 160 19. Joey Logano Toyota 160 20. Ryan Newman Chevrolet 160 21. Bobby Labonte Ford 160 22. Robby Gordon Toyota 160 23. Paul Menard Ford 160 24. Brad Keselowski Chevrolet 160 25. Martin Truex Jr Chevrolet 160 26. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 160 27. John Andretti Chevrolet 160 28. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 160 29. Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 159 30. Tony Raines Dodge 158 31. Scott Speed Toyota 152 32. Sam Hornish Jr Dodge 152 33. Reed Sorenson Dodge 146 34. Casey Mears Chevrolet 144 35. David Stremme Dodge 129 36. David Reutimann Toyota 127 37. Michael Waltrip Toyota 124 38. Mark Martin Chevrolet 79 39. Dale Earnhardt Jr Chevrolet 76 40. David Gilliland Chevrolet 76 41. Joe Nemechek Toyota 25 42. Patrick Carpentier Toyota 18 43. Dave Blaney Toyota 2