Jeff Gordon scored his first NASCAR Sprint Cup race win of 2013 at Martinsville, as title rivals Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson drew level in the standings.
Gordon passed Kenseth for the lead with 20 laps remaining in a bruising race that featured a season-high 17 caution periods.
"I was thinking, ‘What would Jimmie Johnson do?' Or better yet, ‘What would Richard Petty do?'" Gordon said. "The tires really went away on us there at the end. I knew his car was good on the short runs, and he was putting together a really good run. But every time I saw him slip a tire, I just tried to conserve my tires and drive real straight into the corner and off the corner.
"I finally started seeing where he was struggling on the exit (from the corners). I dove in there a couple times and couldn't make (the pass). Matt really drove a first-class race. I didn't know if we were going to get him. But it was awesome when we finally did."
Johnson, Gordon, Kenseth, Clint Bowyer and polesitter Denny Hamlin had been the main lead protagonists as the race order repeatedly shuffled through divergent strategies amid the seemingly endless yellows. Kenseth's Joe Gibbs Toyota dropped down the order mid-race but worked his way back to lead going into the closing stages.
Hendrick driver Gordon managed to get down the inside of Kenseth on lap 480 of 500 following a long battle, and then edged out just enough breathing space amid heavy traffic.
"Jeff's experience got me. I just don't have that much experience running up front here," Kenseth said. "I had something that was working, but I was hurting the rear tires and ended up hurting the front tires, too."
As Gordon won by half a second, Bowyer's Waltrip Toyota closed in on Kenseth and came within 0.064sec of stealing the runner-up spot.
Brad Keselowski beat Johnson to fourth place, meaning Kenseth and Johnson are now level on 2294 points with three races to go. After the race Johnson was involved in a heated argument with Greg Biffle, the pair having made contact repeatedly during a late dice. Biffle finished ninth.
Kevin Harvick took sixth, ahead of Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Results - 500 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet 3h44m21.000s
2. Matt Kenseth Joe Gibbs Toyota +0.596s
3. Clint Bowyer Waltrip Toyota +0.668s
4. Brad Keselowski Penske Ford +4.698s
5. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet +5.321s
6. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet +10.891s
7. Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Toyota +11.553s
8. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet +12.219s
9. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford +13.806s
10. Jamie McMUrray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet +16.207s
11. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet +17.360s
12. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford +17.541s
13. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet +17.930s
14. Joey Logano Penske Ford +19.010s
15. Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Toyota +19.911s
16. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota +20.731s
17. Danica Patrick Stewart-Haas Chevrolet +1 lap
18. Kurt Busch Furniture Row Chevrolet +1 lap
19. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford +1 lap
20. Aric Almirola Petty Ford +1 lap
21. Casey Mears Germain Ford +1 lap
22. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet +1 lap
23. David Gilliland Front Row Ford +1 lap
24. Travis Kvapil BK Toyota +1 lap
25. Elliott Sadler Waltrip Toyota +1 lap
26. Michael McDowell Parsons Ford +2 laps
27. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Chevrolet +3 laps
28. Ken Schrader FAS Lane Ford +4 laps
29. Landon Cassill Hillman Chevrolet +5 laps
30. JJ Yeley Baldwin Chevrolet +5 laps
31. Ricky Stenhouse Jr Roush Fenway Ford +5 laps
32. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota +6 laps
33. Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota +7 laps
34. Josh Wise Front Row Ford +10 laps
35. Cole Whitt Swan Toyota +41 laps
36. Mark Martin Stewart-Haas Chevrolet +45 laps
David Reutimann BK Toyota 451 laps
Ryan Newman Stewart-Haas Chevrolet 432 laps*
Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet 357 laps
Reed Sorenson Leavine Ford 275 laps
Tony Raines Circle Sport Chevrolet 220 laps
Kyle Larson Phoenix Chevrolet 160 laps
David Ragan Front Row Ford 109 laps
* Running again at checkered flag