Greg Biffle claimed his second win of the season in Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway, as Jimmie Johnson's second place handed him the lead in the playoff.
The Roush Fenway driver became stronger in the last quarter of the race, taking the lead after his penultimate stop with 60 laps remaining. Before that he had only led one lap, racing for most of the distance among the top five, but when he managed to get his car in clean air at the end he was in a league of his own.
Biffle left his rivals in the distance, winning by 7.6 seconds as the race went green all the way after he passed Paul Menard for the lead, the Richard Petty Motorsports driver having gambled on a two-tyre stop for his penultimate stint, while Biffle along with the other leaders had taken on a full set of Goodyears.
"Once we got our car adjusted we were off and set sail," said Biffle. "The thing was really fast. I didn't think even if there were more cautions that they would catch us... I was even saving a little bit out there at the end too. I knew the caution was going to come out and I would need some tyre to race these guys."
But while Biffle motored ahead to take his second career win at Kansas and the 16th in the Sprint Cup series, the battle for second behind him was a interesting one. Six of the title contenders followed the #16 Ford from a distance, with Johnson and Harvick managing to run a bit faster among them to take second and third.
Reigning champion Johnson overcame a poor qualifying, although like Biffle he was fast in the closing stages of the race having for the majority of the event seemed likely to only salvage a decent points finish.
With Denny Hamlin taking the chequered flag down in 12th, Johnson's pass on Richard Childress Racing's Kevin Harvick with a few laps remaining gave him the Chase lead by eight points over the Joe Gibbs racer.
"The balance of the car was good but it just never was in the racetrack," said Johnson. "Felt like cold tyres all day long. I saw a lot of guys fighting the same issue. I think this tyre that was brought here certainly threw us for a loop this weekend.
"Honestly, I drove 400 miles with my tongue hanging out just sawing at the wheel trying to get everything I could. Very pleased to have walked that fine line and didn't make any mistakes."
Harvick finished third, making good use of the final green flag stretch to the flag, his car more suited to the long runs. His finish allowed him to move up one place in the playoff standings and he now trails Johnson by only 30 points.
Tony Stewart led the most laps but then got shuffled back in traffic late in the race, still finishing fourth and bouncing back from a bad start to his Chase.
Jeff Gordon also led plenty of laps in the early going but his speed vanished halfway through. Despite that, his top five finish allowed him to move up three spots in the playoff ranking where he sits now fifth behind Carl Edwards.
Matt Kenseth was also a race leader and competed at the front for most of the afternoon, enjoying his best outing of the past six weeks and by far his most competitive in the Chase.
Kyle Busch, who was third in the standings heading into the weekend, fell victim to retaliation from David Reutimann after earlier hitting the back of the Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota on lap 52, sending Reutimann spinning against the wall.
Nearly 100 laps later and while running several laps down, Reutimann hit back at Busch's car at the same spot on the track, causing damage to to the rear end of Busch's #18 Camry, while Reutimann spun along the backstretch.
"He slid up off the bottom and I got into him unintentionally and just spun him out," Busch said. "My fault 100 per cent, but then the retaliation to a guy that's in the Chase that's racing for something... He'll be here next year. He could've wrecked me in any of the first 26 races next year. That would've been fine."
Busch limped to a 21st place finish, ending up a lap down and dropping down to seventh in the standings.
Pos Driver Car Laps 1. Greg Biffle Ford 267 2. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 267 3. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 267 4. Tony Stewart Chevrolet 267 5. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 267 6. Carl Edwards Ford 267 7. Matt Kenseth Ford 267 8. Paul Menard Ford 267 9. Ryan Newman Chevrolet 267 10. AJ Allmendinger Ford 267 11. Jamie McMurray Chevrolet 267 12. Denny Hamlin Toyota 267 13. Kurt Busch Dodge 267 14. Mark Martin Chevrolet 267 15. Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 267 16. David Ragan Ford 267 17. Joey Logano Toyota 267 18. Jeff Burton Chevrolet 267 19. Scott Speed Toyota 267 20. Martin Truex Jr Toyota 267 21. Kyle Busch Toyota 266 22. Dale Earnhardt Jr Chevrolet 266 23. Brad Keselowski Dodge 266 24. Casey Mears Toyota 266 25. Bill Elliott Ford 266 26. Regan Smith Chevrolet 266 27. Patrick Carpentier Ford 266 28. Elliott Sadler Ford 266 29. Juan Pablo Montoya Chevrolet 266 30. Reed Sorenson Toyota 265 31. Dave Blaney Ford 261 32. David Gilliland Ford 261 33. Travis Kvapil Ford 261 34. Marcos Ambrose Toyota 257 35. David Reutimann Toyota 256 36. Sam Hornish Jr Dodge 245 37. Kasey Kahne Ford 218 38. Kevin Conway Toyota 180 39. Tony Raines Chevrolet 87 40. Michael McDowell Chevrolet 60 41. Bobby Labonte Chevrolet 58 42. JJ Yeley Chevrolet 49 43. Landon Cassill Toyota 33