Executing perfectly a move he had saved for the right occasion, Brad Keselowski pulled away from Kyle Busch on the final lap to win Sunday's Aaron's 499 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at at Talladega Superspeedway in a green-white-checkered-flag finish.
The Penske Racing driver got the decisive push from Busch on the penultimate lap when the green waved for the last time, following a multi-car incident ignited by Keselowski's teammate AJ Allmendinger, who made contact with Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin.
The Roush Fenway duo of Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle had been quickest off the line and pulled away initially until they got disconnected, losing their momentum while watching the Dodge/Toyota tandem pass them.
Keselowski and Busch got up a head of steam, breaking away from their rivals to fight it out between them on the final lap, and although Busch seemed in the ideal position to attack out of the final turn, the Gibbs driver could not stay with his Penske rival heading to the flag, leaving Keselowski's Dodge unchallenged up front.
"I had this whole plan if I ever got in that situation where I was leading," said Keselowski after giving Dodge its first win at Talladega since 1976. "I thought about it and thought about it, dreamed about what to do and sure enough, going into [Turn] 3, it was just me and Kyle. And I knew the move I wanted to pull. It worked because the guy running second should have the advantage, but I had this move all worked up in my mind.
"I went into Turn 3 high and pulled down off of Kyle and broke the tandem up. That allowed me to drive untouched to the checkered flag."
Busch was left wondering what went wrong on the final half-lap to prevent him from challenging Keselowski, after he had been in the exact opposite position in Saturday's Nationwide Series race, where he got beaten by Joey Logano, who was pushing him before the finish line.
"Somehow getting into Turn 3 just got disconnected from [Keselowski]," said Busch. "Once that happened, the race was over, it was all his. I'm not sure he did anything, if he did, he's pretty smart, but I think our stuff just came unplugged."
Kenseth finished third with bodywork damage on the right front following contact with fellow Ford driver Casey Mears, but despite that he had the speed to contend for victory in the end after leading the most laps. He lamented that his final move with Biffle did not work as planned.
"We got in front of the 2 [Keselowski] and Kyle and as soon as we became clear it wasn't long after that that I looked back and we were separated and those guys were outside of him," said Kenseth. "With nobody behind him he lost his speed and with me not paying enough attention during that to keep us hooked up it cost us a shot at the win, it cost Greg a shot at the win."
Kasey Kahne finished as the top Chevrolet in fourth ahead of Biffle, who remained the points leader, now followed by Kenseth.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. led 10 laps but could not get a proper run in the green-white-checkered finish, complaining of a very loose car in dirty air. He finished ninth in the end in what turned out to be a tough day for Hendrick Motorsports as Jimmie Johnson retired with an engine failure and polesitter Jeff Gordon was involved in a multi-car incident 45 laps from the end. Another Hendrick-powered Chevrolet, Ryan Newman's Stewart-Haas car, succumbed to a similar issue to Johnson.
The race went trouble-free for most of the first half of the distance, only one caution waving due to Regan Smith's Furniture Row Chevrolet blowing up. However, there were four different incidents in the last 46 laps, including one involving Keselowski, who accidentally turned around former Penske teammate Kurt Busch (RIGHT) with six laps remaining.
A number of drivers struggled with high engine temperatures during the race, many avoiding any bump-drafting for most of the day to save their machinery for the closing laps, where only 19 cars were listed on the lead lap.
Results - 194 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge 3h13m17.000s
2. Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota + 0.304s
3. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford + 0.598s
4. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Chevrolet + 0.636s
5. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford + 0.654s
6. Clint Bowyer Waltrip Toyota + 0.692s
7. David Ragan Front Row Ford + 0.782s
8. Trevor Bayne Wood Brothers Ford + 0.838s
9. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet + 0.839s
10. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet + 1.046s
11. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt-Ganassi Chevrolet + 1.063s
12. Aric Almirola Petty Ford + 1.115s
13. David Gilliland Front Row Ford + 1.218s
14. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford + 1.233s
15. AJ Allmendinger Penske Dodge + 1.292s
16. Travis Kvapil BK Toyota + 1.300s
17. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet + 1.918s
18. Casey Mears Germain Ford + 7.392s
19. Michael Waltrip Waltrip Toyota + 16.565s
20. Kurt Busch Phoenix Chevrolet + 1 lap
21. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota + 2 laps
22. David Reutimann Baldwin Chevrolet + 2 laps
23. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota + 2 laps
24. Tony Stewart Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 4 laps
Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet 184 laps
Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota 184 laps
Robert Richardson Jr R3 Toyota 182 laps
Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota 166 laps
Terry Labonte FAS Lane Ford 143 laps
Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet 142 laps
Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford 142 laps
Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt-Ganassi Chevrolet 142 laps
Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet 142 laps
Landon Cassill BK Toyota 141 laps
Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet 61 laps
Ryan Newman Stewart-Haas Chevrolet 42 laps
Bill Elliott NEMCO Toyota 37 laps
Tony Raines Joe Falk Chevrolet 32 laps
David Stremme Inception Toyota 30 laps
Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevrolet 15 laps
Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 7 laps
Josh Wise Front Row Ford 5 laps
Michael McDowell Parsons Ford 2 laps