Jimmie Johnson took a dominant second win of the season at Kansas, strongly enhancing his quest for a sixth consecutive title.
The reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion probably produced his most emphatic display of the whole season, leading 197 out the 272 laps run, only looking under threat on the green-white-chequered finish, when the charging Red Bull Toyota of Kasey Kahne challenged him.
Johnson was more than 12 seconds ahead of the field when the third caution of the day waved for debris 61 laps from the end, apparently turning the race into yet another fuel-saving contest. However a further caution on lap 219 allowed the leaders the chance to pit, Johnson going for a splash while others like Tony Stewart, his main rival at the time, took on new right-side tyres also.
The Hendrick driver restarted from third behind Penske's Kurt Busch and Richard Childress' Kevin Harvick, both of whom stayed out during the caution to gain track position, but it took Johnson just a couple of laps to put things back in order at the front of the field.
Just when he looked under control once again, yet another caution waved only 27 laps from the end. Johnson and his team were aggressive with their strategy and pitted once again for two new tyres, while Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin gambled on staying out.
Again Johnson lost no time in jumping to the front, passing both drivers on the inside as soon as the green flag waved. As he pulled away from his rivals Kahne started to make up ground, getting an unexpected break to challenge Johnson in a two-lap sprint when the final caution waved due to fluid being spilled on the track from Jeff Gordon's failing engine.
Kahne spun his tyres on the final restart, then got pushed by Keselowski as a consequence, while Johnson pulled a couple of car-lengths ahead. The Red Bull Toyota reeled in the leader on the last lap but Johnson held Kahne off to win for the first time in the last 21 races, ending his longest win drought in Cup.
Johnson is now third in the points, only four points off the Chase lead. His victory also ensures he is the only Cup driver to have won at least one race in every Chase since 2004, Sunday's being his 20th victory in a play-off event.
"There are just days when you have the strength across the board and you can control the race," said Johnson, whose victory was the 199th for Hendrick Motorsports and gave yet another manufacturers' title to Chevrolet in the process. "It's just one of those days when we had the strength in all areas and we could capitalise on it."
Kahne's second-place finish kept momentum rolling for Red Bull Racing as the team remains amid the uncertainty of trying to secure funding to keep it rolling into 2012, once Red Bull pulls the plug on its backing.
Keselowski managed a strong third-place finish which allows him to move back up to fourth in the standings as the leading Penske driver, following a tough day for his team-mate Kurt Busch, who came back from a lap down to challenge at the front through strategy, but dropped down to 13th at the flag.
Roush Fenway's Matt Kenseth was fourth, leading the race for 26 laps - the most any other driver but Johnson managed. Behind him his team-mate Carl Edwards kept his top-10 Chase streak rolling with fifth, which vaults him up to the Chase lead. Edwards recovered from being a lap down in the late stages of the race while struggling with handling throughout the day.
"That was very, very bad at the beginning of that race," said Edwards. "I cannot thank my guys enough for sticking with it and working hard all day. I cannot believe we finished fifth. It feels like a win. That is the most we have done with a car that wasn't capable of winning ever."
Harvick charged to sixth in the end and drops to second in the standings, while the rest of the top 10 was filled by non-Chasers, led by RCR's Clint Bowyer.
Stewart, who looked to be Johnson's main threat for a while, finished only 15th after a four-tyre stop during the penultimate caution cost him track position. Although he moved up to seventh following that, he pitted once again under the final caution but slid in his pit-stall, having a long stop that placed him on the tail end of the lead-lap cars. His team-mate Ryan Newman got back on the lead lap during the final caution and finished 18th.
Results - 272 laps: Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet 2h58m27.000s 2. Kasey Kahne Red Bull Toyota + 0.548s 3. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge + 0.678s 4. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford + 1.173s 5. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford + 1.630s 6. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet + 1.793s 7. Clint Bowyer Childress Chevrolet + 2.226s 8. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford + 2.597s 9. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford + 3.131s 10. Mark Martin Hendrick Chevrolet + 3.203s 11. Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota + 3.207s 12. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet + 3.229s 13. Kurt Busch Penske Dodge + 3.275s 14. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet + 3.414s 15. Tony Stewart Stewart Haas Chevrolet + 3.441s 16. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota + 3.525s 17. Landon Cassill Phoenix Chevrolet + 3.566s 18. Ryan Newman Stewart Haas Chevrolet + 4.342s 19. Brian Vickers Red Bull Toyota + 1 lap 20. David Ragan Roush Fenway Ford + 1 lap 21. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet + 1 lap 22. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 1 lap 23. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 1 lap 24. Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevrolet + 1 lap 25. AJ Allmendinger Petty Ford + 2 laps 26. Austin Dillon Childress Chevrolet + 2 laps 27. Travis Kvapil Front Row Ford + 2 laps 28. Mike Bliss FAS Lane Ford + 2 laps 29. Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota + 2 laps 30. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota + 3 laps 31. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet + 3 laps 32. David Gilliland Front Row Ford + 4 laps 33. Scott Speed Whitney Ford + 6 laps 34. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet + 8 laps 35. David Reutimann Waltrip Toyota + 8 laps 36. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota + 31 laps Retirements: Andy Lally TRG Ford 72 laps Reed Sorenson Gordon Dodge 37 laps Michael McDowell HP Toyota 30 laps David Stremme Inception Chevrolet 27 laps Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 18 laps Casey Mears Germain Toyota 16 laps JJ Yeley Front Row Ford 12 laps