Brad Keselowski became the first Penske driver to clinch a NASCAR Sprint Cup title with 15th at Homestead, as Jimmie Johnson retired with a transmission problem and Jeff Gordon took the final win of 2012.
Johnson's issue came just a few laps after he had stopped to serve a penalty for a missing lug nut on a left-rear wheel, on what was set to be his final pit stop.
Before that, Johnson had been in position to win the race following a two-tire stop that allowed him to jump to the lead during the second caution of the day.
That was followed by a stop under the final caution that placed him on the right strategy to complete the distance with only one more stop while others, including Keselowski, needed two. However, his penalty ruined his chances of fighting for victory and his subsequent mechanical failure allowed his rival to clinch the title with 24 laps still remaining.
Gordon, who was on the same strategy as Johnson, showed what could have been for the five-time champion by winning, although Keselowski managed in the end to finish 15th, proving he could have clinched the title regardless of Johnson's result.
"He's the best," said Keselowski about Johnson. "He proved here today he was going to win this damn race and I know that.
"We were not as we wanted to be, I'll be the first to admit that, but my guys never gave up – we kept working and at the end were able to get back up enough to where it wouldn't have mattered if he had won, which made me feel a lot better."
The Penske driver had approached his most important race yet with the aim of fighting for victory and being aggressive, but for most of the event, he and his crew chief Paul Wolfe seemed to be cautious and Keselowski was not a contender for the lead despite starting the race from the front row.
Johnson was disappointed to see his hopes dashed by yet another technical issue after a deflating right-front tire a week earlier at Phoenix had lost him the Chase lead and placed him 20 points behind Keselowski in the championship standings.
"Definitely a disappointing finish to it all," said Johnson. "We were putting the pressure on like we need to. We had strategy on our side. We were really in position to make it interesting there at the end.
"A couple of little problems... well, one problem then a fatal issue got us at the end. We are not sure why we lost the rear-end gear."
Clint Bowyer finished the race second behind Gordon and his result, added to Johnson's 36th place, meant he finished the Chase as championship runner-up.
Results - 267 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet 2h48m56.000s
2. Clint Bowyer Waltrip Toyota + 1.028s
3. Ryan Newman Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 13.519s
4. Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota + 16.593s
5. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford + 17.540s
6. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota + 17.704s
7. Aric Almirola Petty Ford + 19.517s
8. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet + 20.924s
9. Kurt Busch Furniture Row Chevrolet + 24.432s
10. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet + 26.596s
11. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet + 27.389s
12. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford + 34.075s
13. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford + 39.533s
14. Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota + 45.536s
15. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge + 1 lap
16. Mark Martin Waltrip Toyota + 1 lap
17. Tony Stewart Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 1 lap
18. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford + 1 lap
19. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet + 1 lap
20. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 1 lap
21. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Chevrolet + 1 lap
22. Sam Hornish Jr Penske Dodge + 1 lap
23. Trevor Bayne Wood Brothers Ford + 1 lap
24. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota + 1 lap
25. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota + 2 laps
26. Travis Kvapil BK Toyota + 2 laps
27. Landon Cassill BK Toyota + 2 laps
28. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 3 laps
29. Casey Mears Germain Ford + 3 laps
30. Regan Smith Phoenix Chevrolet + 3 laps
31. David Ragan Front Row Ford + 4 laps
32. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet + 4 laps
33. David Gilliland Front Row Ford + 5 laps
34. David Reutimann Baldwin Chevrolet + 6 laps
35. JJ Yeley Max Q Chevrolet + 6 laps
Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet 224 laps
Ken Schrader FAS Lane Ford 219 laps
David Stremme Inception Toyota 183 laps
Ricky Stenhouse Jr Roush Fenway Ford 157 laps
Josh Wise Front Row Ford 38 laps
Michael McDowell Parsons Ford 34 laps
Scott Riggs R3 Chevrolet 23 laps
Mike Bliss Humphrey Smith Toyota 16 laps