Denny Hamlin claimed his second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win of the season at Richmond, while Brian Vickers got the last spot available in the Chase in dramatic fashion.
Hamlin took a well deserved first win in NASCAR's top series at his home track, after battling up front for most of the night with Jeff Gordon, then fending off Penske's Kurt Busch at the end following the final restart with 14 laps to go.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver led 298 out of the 400 scheduled laps and his victory got him a 10-point bonus, which allows him to start the series' play-off in fourth place next week, only 20 behind the new leader, veteran Mark Martin.
"You know, today everything just came together," said Hamlin. "We had good pit stops and didn't make any mistakes, so we just kind of paced ourselves at the beginning," said Hamlin.
"The 24 [Jeff Gordon] was really good there at the beginning and had some good racing with him. Just kind of sizing him up, seeing what he had in case I had to race him towards the end.
"Over the last 12 weeks we've just been extremely strong and excited about the Chase. We've got some great tracks for us coming up there. Hopefully that burnout didn't hurt this car because I need it."
Busch's second place secured him a place in the Chase as well, while Gordon recovered from contact with Clint Bowyer following a late restart to finish third ahead of his Hendrick teammate Martin.
However, the real battle of the night unfolded between Matt Kenseth, Brian Vickers and Kyle Busch as the three of them fought it out for 12th place in the drivers' standings, the last available spot in the title battle.
Kenseth had qualified badly and from 28th on the grid his race turned out to be a struggle. He never quite found the balance, nor the speed to move up in the order enough to maintain his position inside the top 12 in the championship. Some pit stop dramas further complicated his night.
Once Kenseth dropped a lap down, Vickers and Busch concentrated the interest as their small margin in the points meant that they continuously swapped between being in and out of the Chase.
Despite Busch finishing fifth and ahead of the Red Bull driver, in the end Vickers' seventh place secured him a place in the play-off for the first time in his career and in just the third season for his squad in NASCAR's top series.
"Real proud of everybody at Red Bull and Toyota," said Vickers. "This is not just one race - this has been a culmination of 26 races, nobody giving up.
"Two-and-a-half years ago we started this program and we never would have believed that we would have been this far along - six poles, a win and now we're in the Chase. I don't know what to say,I'm so proud of everybody."
Clint Bowyer was best of the non-Chasers in the end with sixth place, three ahead of his teammate Kevin Harvick on a day of resurgence for Richard Childress Racing, a team that will not be represented in the Chase.
Sam Hornish Jr. impressed once again with eighth place while Ryan Newman rounded out the top ten, also securing a place in the play-off.
Juan Pablo Montoya crossed the line in 19th place, but secured his place as the first non-American ever to enter the Chase for the Sprint Cup, also giving Chip Ganassi the first shot at the Sprint Cup title since the play-off format was implemented.
Pos Driver Car Laps
1. Denny Hamlin Toyota 400
2. Kurt Busch Dodge 400
3. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 400
4. Mark Martin Chevrolet 400
5. Kyle Busch Toyota 400
6. Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 400
7. Brian Vickers Toyota 400
8. Sam Hornish Jr Dodge 400
9. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 400
10. Ryan Newman Chevrolet 400
11. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 400
12. Kasey Kahne Dodge 400
13. Greg Biffle Ford 400
14. Joey Logano Toyota 400
15. Carl Edwards Ford 400
16. Reed Sorenson Dodge 400
17. Tony Stewart Chevrolet 400
18. Jeff Burton Chevrolet 400
19. Juan Montoya Chevrolet 400
20. David Reutimann Toyota 400
21. Dale Earnhardt Jr Chevrolet 400
22. Marcos Ambrose Toyota 400
23. AJ Allmendinger Dodge 400
24. David Gilliland Toyota 400
25. Matt Kenseth Ford 400
26. David Stremme Dodge 400
27. Jamie McMurray Ford 400
28. Paul Menard Ford 399
29. John Andretti Chevrolet 399
30. Casey Mears Chevrolet 398
31. Bobby Labonte Ford 398
32. Michael Waltrip Toyota 398
33. David Ragan Ford 398
34. Elliott Sadler Dodge 396
35. Joe Nemechek Toyota 396
36. Scott Speed Toyota 396
37. Max Papis Toyota 394
38. Brad Keselowski Chevrolet 376
39. Martin Truex Jr Chevrolet 325
40. Regan Smith Chevrolet 174
41. Michael McDowell Toyota 113
42. Mike Bliss Chevrolet 38
43. Dave Blaney Toyota 36