Kevin Harvick snatched victory from Jamie McMurray in a close finish at Talladega Superspeedway.
The Richard Childress racer ended a 116-race winless streak with an impressive move on this year's Daytona 500 champion, after pushing both of them clear of the field on the third attempt at a green-white-checkered finish.
Harvick seemed to unsettle McMurray's car at the exit of the final turn, allowing him to dive his nose on the inside of the Earnhardt Childress Racing Chevy. Both sprinted toward the finish line side by side, with Harvick just edging McMurray by 12 thousandths of a second.
Both drivers succeeded at stretching their fuel mileage to the limit, staying out when the caution flags waved with 12 laps remaining. The race then went 12 laps longer than the scheduled distance, due to incidents that forced officials to call the maximum of three green-white-checkered finishes allowed by the rules.
Harvick's win comes just days after his team learned that its current sponsor Pennzoil is set to end their partnership at the end of the season, in favor of a move to Penske Racing.
"Obviously we were tight on fuel but we managed to save enough gas to be where we needed for all the green-white-checkereds," said Harvick. "Once we got kind of past that window, it was all about timing and that worked out exactly how we wanted it to. Coming into the tri-oval, we needed to be second, [McMurray] moved to the right, I moved to the left, and that was it."
McMurray came close to making it three in a row at restrictor-plate races, as he had won at Talladega last November before taking victory in the season-opener at Daytona. Despite losing out in the final sprint, he was happy to score well, following a number of disappointing outings for him and his teammate Juan Pablo Montoya.
Both EGR cars, as well as Harvick, spent most of the first half of the race hanging at the back in a separate group hoping to avoid being involved in the multi-car incidents so typical of Talladega. Once they mixed it up at the front in tandem, they both showed enough speed, which coupled with the right strategy, placed them at the front for the closing laps.
"We thought it would just be best to log some laps for the first 20," McMurray said. "We waited for 50 or 60 laps to go then made our move to the front. We worked well with Juan all day long."
Montoya also stayed out following his teammate on the fifth caution and led the race after pitting for the last time to take only two new tires, 41 laps from the end. The Colombian was on the front row beside McMurray for the final green flag and, for a while, he seemed to be able to pass him on the outside, pushed by Denny Hamlin. However, the Harvick-McMurray tandem took off on the final lap.
"I thought I had a chance to win the race when I had Hamlin behind, but for some reason the other two were a little bit faster," said Montoya. "The way the season has been going. I was surprised we didn't wreck, to be honest with you... We really needed a good finish to get some points and we got both Ganassi cars up there, so it's pretty cool."
Behind Hamlin, Mark Martin rounded out the top five after spending a good bit of the race hanging back, as had Harvick, and the EGR drivers.
Points leader Jimmie Johnson ended up crashing after making contact with Greg Biffle, causing the final caution of the race, but that was after having yet another clash with his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon. The DuPont Chevy driver was trying to pass him while pushed by a train of cars and Johnson closed the door – igniting an incident that involved the 24 car as well as Jeff Burton's, which had led the most laps up to that point. Scott Speed also got collected in the incident.
Two other multi-car accidents took place, the first on lap 84 when Johnny Sauter got turned around by Kyle Busch, with at least another six cars getting involved. Then on the second attempt at a green-white-checkered finish, Ryan Newman got turned sideways by Joey Logano, getting seven more cars caught up in the wreckage.
The race featured a record-setting 88 lead changes, among 29 different drivers, in what was the first restrictor-plate event with the new spoiler.
Johnson continues to top the standings, now followed by race winner Harvick, who went on to lead the field from pole position in the rain-delayed Nationwide Series race that followed the Sprint Cup race at Talladega.
Pos Driver Car Laps
1. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 200
2. Jamie McMurray Chevrolet 200
3. Juan Montoya Chevrolet 200
4. Denny Hamlin Toyota 200
5. Mark Martin Chevrolet 200
6. David Ragan Ford 200
7. Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 200
8. Kurt Busch Dodge 200
9. Kyle Busch Toyota 200
10. Mike Bliss Chevrolet 200
11. Carl Edwards Ford 200
12. Martin Truex Jr Toyota 200
13. Dale Earnhardt Jr Chevrolet 200
14. David Reutimann Toyota 200
15. Scott Speed Toyota 200
16. Tony Stewart Chevrolet 200
17. Greg Biffle Ford 200
18. Travis Kvapil Ford 200
19. AJ Allmendinger Ford 200
20. Robby Gordon Toyota 200
21. Kasey Kahne Ford 200
22. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 200
23. Bobby Labonte Chevrolet 200
24. Sam Hornish Jr Dodge 200
25. Paul Menard Ford 198
26. Robert Richardson Jr Ford 198
27. David Stremme Ford 197
28. Matt Kenseth Ford 196
29. Brian Vickers Toyota 195
30. Kevin Conway Ford 195
31. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 194
32. Jeff Burton Chevrolet 191
33. Elliott Sadler Ford 188
34. Brad Keselowski Dodge 188
35. Ryan Newman Chevrolet 188
36. Joey Logano Toyota 188
37. Marcos Ambrose Toyota 188
38. Regan Smith Chevrolet 100
39. Michael Waltrip Toyota 84
40. Max Papis Toyota 83
41. Johnny Sauter Chevrolet 83
42. Joe Nemechek Toyota 47
43. Dave Blaney Toyota 33