Clint Bowyer claimed his third NASCAR Sprint Cup victory of the season in a fuel-mileage finish on Saturday night at Charlotte.
The Michael Waltrip Racing driver got back in the championship picture with a calculated drive that saw him stretch his fuel further than his rivals, exactly as he did at Richmond where he had claimed his most recent victory just before the Chase started.
Having pitted for the last time, Bowyer picked up the lead with 25 laps remaining but then saw his gap consistently reduced by Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin, who applied pressure in the closing laps, eventually finishing less than half a second behind him.
Hamlin was followed in a distant third place by Hendrick Motorsports' Jimmie Johnson. Both men cut into Brad Keselowski's Chase lead as the Penske driver finished outside the top 10 for the first time during the playoff series, crossing the line in 11th.
Hamlin and Johnson took advantage of the final caution, 110 laps from the end, to top up with fuel again while Keselowski stayed out to keep the lead that was his for 139 of the race's 334 laps.
Without any further chances to save fuel behind the pace car, Keselowski was forced to try to make up for the fuel deficit on the track while retaining the lead. He eventually ran dry and then had a lengthy stop, after which he was unable to come back to contention.
Bowyer's win allowed him to move back up to fourth in the points, 28 behind Keselowski as the Chase tightens entering its final half next weekend.
"Who would have thought in a million years after making this switch, coming over to a new family and everything that was new, that we would be in Victory Lane three times and with five races left we're still in contention for the championship?" said a joyful Bowyer after running out of fuel while trying to celebrate with a burnout.
Polesitter Greg Biffle led those who needed an extra stop for fuel in the end, finishing fourth as the best Ford and moving up three places in the championship.
Hamlin's teammate Kyle Busch, who ran a similar strategy to Biffle, was fifth while Bowyer's team-mate Mark Martin was sixth and the last car to finish on the lead lap.
In one of the best showings of the season for Toyota, six out of the top 10 finishers were Camrys, including all MWR and JGR entries. That was despite the event coming down to fuel mileage – not a Toyota strong point this season.
Reigning champion Tony Stewart bounced back from damage to the front of his Chevrolet after hitting the back of Keselowski's Dodge during the second restart, and finished 13th, albeit a lap down.
Regan Smith had a promising yet short debut for Hendrick as Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s stand-in. He dropped out early with an engine failure while running among the top 10.
Results - 334 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Clint Bowyer Waltrip Toyota 3h14m01.000s
2. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota + 0.417s
3. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet + 15.355s
4. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford + 27.280s
5. Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota + 29.759s
6. Mark Martin Waltrip Toyota + 30.258s
7. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford + 1 lap
8. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Chevrolet + 1 lap
9. Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota + 1 lap
10. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota + 1 lap
11. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge + 1 lap
12. Aric Almirola Petty Ford + 1 lap
13. Tony Stewart Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 1 lap
14. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford + 1 lap
15. Sam Hornish Jr Penske Dodge + 1 lap
16. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet + 1 lap
17. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 1 lap
18. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet + 2 laps
19. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 2 laps
20. Ryan Newman Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 2 laps
21. Kurt Busch Furniture Row Chevrolet + 2 laps
22. Trevor Bayne Wood Brothers Ford + 2 laps
23. David Gilliland Front Row Ford + 3 laps
24. AJ Allmendinger Phoenix Chevrolet + 4 laps
25. Travis Kvapil BK Toyota + 4 laps
26. Landon Cassill BK Toyota + 5 laps
27. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet + 6 laps
28. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet + 7 laps
29. Casey Mears Germain Ford + 7 laps
30. David Reutimann Baldwin Chevrolet + 7 laps
31. Michael McDowell Parsons Ford + 8 laps
32. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota + 10 laps
33. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford + 31 laps
34. David Ragan Front Row Ford + 47 laps
Ricky Stenhouse Jr Roush Fenway Ford 190 laps
Timmy Hill FAS Lane Ford 182 laps
David Stremme Inception Toyota 62 laps
Regan Smith Hendrick Chevrolet 61 laps
Mike Bliss Humphrey Smith Toyota 53 laps
Scott Speed Leavine Ford 50 laps
Reed Sorenson Humphrey Smith Toyota 32 laps
JJ Yeley Max Q Ford 30 laps
Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet 25 laps