Denny Hamlin claimed his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career win at Bristol while Greg Biffle, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth secured a place in this year's Chase.
In one of the most action-packed races of the season, Joe Gibbs Racing driver Hamlin came out on top from a battle where strategy and track position were key.
Hamlin was a top-five runner following the final round of pitstops and challenged Roush Fenway's Carl Edwards for the lead in the deciding stages, overtaking him after some contact with 39 laps remaining, before pulling away during the final green-flag stretch to the finish.
"The best car won tonight, no doubt about it," said Hamlin, whose third victory of 2012 places him in contention for the Chase lead, as he shares the same tally of wins with Johnson, Penske's Brad Keselowski and reigning champion Tony Stewart.
Johnson finished second and locked himself in championship contention, stretching his fuel mileage further than Hamlin but not really challenging for victory in the final stint, where he kept his Hendrick Motorsports team-mate Jeff Gordon in his rear-view mirrors.
Michael Waltrip Racing's Brian Vickers secured a second top-five finish at Bristol this year, his third of the season, in what was only his sixth outing for the team in 2012. Richard Petty's Marcos Ambrose rounded out the top five, running the same strategy as the Hendrick cars
Hamlin's teammate Kyle Busch finished sixth and provisionally moved up to second in the wild card standings, making the most of Ryan Newman's misfortunes in what turned out to be a disastrous, yet eye-catching day, for Stewart-Haas Racing. The team's three drivers were all involved in incidents. Newman ended his day after contact with Earnhardt Ganassi's Juan Pablo Montoya, while Stewart crashed after making contact with Roush Fenway's Matt Kenseth while fighting for the lead.
Stewart was left furious and showed his anger by throwing his helmet at Kenseth's car before taking the ambulance to the infield care center.
Danica Patrick ran a respectable race on her Bristol Cup debut, racing on the lead lap for most of the night until getting hit by Regan Smith entering the front stretch, 64 laps from the end. She limited her protest to pointing at the passing car of Smith while the crowd cheered her.
Two-time winner Keselowski could not claim a Bristol hat-trick after being involved in an incident with Bobby Labonte halfway through the race. 2012 championship runner-up Edwards ran out of fuel and finished a lowly 22nd. He remains winless and outside the cut for this year's Chase.
Results - 500 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota 3h09m27.000s
2. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet + 1.103s
3. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet + 1.249s
4. Brian Vickers Waltrip Toyota + 2.354s
5. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford + 5.237s
6. Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota + 5.717s
7. Clint Bowyer Waltrip Toyota + 5.914s
8. Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota + 6.265s
9. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Chevrolet + 6.400s
10. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet + 7.269s
11. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota + 7.667s
12. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet + 8.059s
13. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 8.895s
14. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota + 9.677s
15. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet + 10.039s
16. Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevrolet + 10.440s
17. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 10.760s
18. Travis Kvapil BK Toyota + 10.942s
19. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford + 12.822s
20. David Gilliland Front Row Ford + 13.562s
21. Casey Mears Germain Ford + 1 lap
22. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford + 4 laps
23. Michael McDowell Parsons Ford + 4 laps
24. Landon Cassill BK Toyota + 10 laps
25. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford + 14 laps
26. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet + 24 laps*
27. Tony Stewart Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 29 laps
28. Kurt Busch Phoenix Chevrolet + 60 laps
29. Danica Patrick Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 66 laps*
30. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge + 66 laps
31. Jason Leffler Robinson-Blakeney Toyota + 83 laps
32. David Ragan Front Row Ford + 91 laps
33. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet + 140 laps
34. Sam Hornish Jr Penske Dodge + 157 laps
Aric Almirola Petty Ford 235 laps
Ryan Newman Stewart-Haas Chevrolet 189 laps
David Stremme Inception Toyota 159 laps
Josh Wise Front Row Ford 150 laps
Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 130 laps
Stephen Leicht Circle Sport Chevrolet 56 laps
Scott Riggs R3 Chevrolet 20 laps
Ken Schrader FAS Lane Ford 9 laps
Mike Bliss Humphrey Smith Toyota 6 laps
* Not running at finish