Denny Hamlin remained in the lead of the Sprint Cup series playoff following a strong second-place finish on Sunday's Chase opener at Loudon.
The 29-year-old, who led the standings for the first time in his career heading into the start of the title battle this weekend, drove a great race of recovery after being turned around more than halfway through the race by title contender Carl Edwards.
The Roush Fenway racer made contact with Hamlin's Toyota, sending him into a spin on lap 213 of 300, but the Joe Gibbs racer managed to avoid hitting the wall, while being lucky and not getting collected by other cars, as he was running in the top-five at the time.
"I was really glad we just didn't get plowed by the entire field," said Hamlin. "Obviously, we spun in front of the entire field at that point. First thing I asked is how many cars are on the lead lap because I wanted to see how bad our day was going to be
"When we restarted 22nd, I immediately set a goal and said, 'Let's finish top 15,' and then a few things happened and it was like, 'Crap, let's get a top eight' and then 'top 6'...'Holy cow, we can win this thing.' It was one of those days, our car, we just made a heck of a charge at the end."
Hamlin was able to recover from the incident and he quickly made progress while running on a safer fuel strategy than some ahead of him. As the lap-count faded, he started to put the pressure on, closing on the leaders who were trying to save enough to make it to the end.
With 10 laps remaining, he was able to get up to third place, as he continued to shorten the gap to leaders Tony Stewart and Clint Bowyer. In the end, the tank of the Stewart-Haas Chevy of his former Gibbs' teammate ran empty, allowing Bowyer to take the win ahead of Hamlin's No. 11 Toyota.
"The 33 [Bowyer] had a really good car today, the 1 [McMurray], the 14 [Stewart]," said Bowyer. "Those three cars I felt like were the best cars all day. We never really got to show where our car was at. As soon as we got to the top 3, is when we got spun.
"We clawed and scratched our way to the front all day to get in position with 80 to go to go for a win. Luckily, it's a double-edged sword, it made us come in [the pits], we had to get fuel and it gave us the fuel for the end. Typically, our Toyota gets really good gas mileage, so I knew we were going to be fine on fuel right there at the end.
"Top 6 was where I wanted to leave this day, and so first mission accomplished."
Following Sunday's race, Hamlin edges Sunday's winner Bowyer by 35 points in the Chase standings.