Kevin Harvick outlasted a late charge from Carl Edwards and kept his car in one piece during 15 cautions to win the regular season finale of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, the Wonderful Pistachios 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
Harvick's fourth win of the season will place him in a tie with Kyle Busch for the top spot in the championship as the Chase for the Sprint Cup is now set.
"That's what it's all about in these first 26 [races]," said Harvick, whose win gives him an additional three points to his total Chase tally of 2012, the same as leader Busch. "We learned that last year, we didn't win enough races in the Chase and we didn't think we did a very good job of that in the last 10. It's all about the last 10 races and we've got a little momentum now."
Jeff Gordon finished third ahead of David Ragan and Kurt Busch.
Ragan, had he won, could have secured the second wild card Chase berth along with Brad Keselowski. Like everyone else who pitted on the final caution on lap 385, Ragan took four tires instead of gambling on either not pitting or taking only two.
Instead, no changes between drivers entering the Chase took place. Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. locked themselves in the top 10 while Denny Hamlin secured the final wild card berth.
Earnhardt and Hamlin were among a bevy of would-be Chase contenders involved in accidents throughout the night in the 400-lap race. Both cars finished with substantial damage after various spins and a multitude of visits to the pits.
The 12 chasers are set with Kyle Busch and Harvick tied on 2012 points, Gordon three points back, Matt Kenseth a further three behind, ahead of Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Stewart, Earnhardt, Keselowski and Hamlin.
The 15 cautions ate 85 laps and also included dust-ups between Brian Vickers and Marcos Ambrose, when Ambrose went on the inside and pitched both Vickers and his Red Bull teammate Kasey Kahne into spins.
Kurt Busch and Johnson also got together twice, the first time on lap 185. Johnson retaliated on lap 246 by hitting Busch into Turn 2, but Johnson got the worse end of it and resumed 33 laps down while Busch avoided contact with the wall.
Results - 400 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet 3h20m12.000s
2. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford + 0.139s
3. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet + 2.373s
4. David Ragan Roush Fenway Ford + 3.283s
5. Kurt Busch Penske Dodge + 3.437s
6. Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota + 3.916s
7. Tony Stewart Stewart Haas Chevrolet + 4.579s
8. Ryan Newman Stewart Haas Chevrolet + 5.371s
9. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota + 5.473s
10. Mark Martin Hendrick Chevrolet + 5.742s
11. AJ Allmendinger Petty Ford + 6.032s
12. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge + 6.277s
13. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford + 6.794s
14. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 7.633s
15. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 8.667s
16. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet + 8.859s
17. Casey Mears Germain Toyota + 9.200s
18. Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevrolet + 9.517s
19. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet + 19.443s
20. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota + 20.623s
21. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford + 1 lap
22. Clint Bowyer Childress Chevrolet + 1 lap
23. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford + 1 lap
24. Stephen Leicht Baldwin Chevrolet + 1 lap
25. Landon Cassill Phoenix Chevrolet + 1 lap
26. David Reutimann Waltrip Toyota + 1 lap
27. David Gilliland Front Row Ford + 3 laps
28. Travis Kvapil Front Row Ford + 6 laps
29. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet + 7 laps
30. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota + 9 laps
31. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet + 38 laps
32. Andy Lally TRG Chevrolet + 43 laps
33. Brian Vickers Red Bull Toyota + 72 laps
34. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet + 81 laps
Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota 296 laps
Mike Bliss FAS Lane Ford 198 laps
Robby Gordon Gordon Dodge 51 laps
Kasey Kahne Red Bull Toyota 50 laps
Michael McDowell HP Toyota 46 laps
David Stremme Inception Chevrolet 42 laps
Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 24 laps
JJ Yeley Front Row Ford 22 laps
Scott Speed Whitney Ford 7 laps