Brad Keselowski held off Matt Kenseth to claim his first NASCAR Sprint Cup win of the season at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The Penske driver got a perfect score and a second consecutive win at NASCAR's fastest half mile, after narrowly avoiding an early crash which took some of the prerace favorites out of contention for victory.
Keselowski made light contact with the spinning No. 5 car of Hendrick Motorsports' Kasey Kahne, which had an incident with Furniture Row's Regan Smith on lap 23. Having survived that early scare Keselowski then became a contender for the lead, climbing up to the top spot for the first time before the halfway mark.
In the end it became a two-horse battle with Roush Fenway's Kenseth, Keselowski overtaking him for good 111 laps from the end after running side-by-side while managing traffic in the long green-flag stints that prevailed in the afternoon. A late caution allowed both to stretch fuel mileage enough to safely make it to the checkered flag without an extra stop.
Last August Keselowski won the race following a controversial pass on pit road, where by making the most of the position of his stall relative to the timing lines that determine pit-road speeds, he was able to go beyond the 30mph limit, pass Jeff Gordon and then hold on rivals to take victory.
This year NASCAR introduced additional timing lines in an effort to avoid a repetition of the issue, but Keselowski said Sunday's win proves his 2011 victory was no fluke.
"I got on Twitter and got kind of PO'd at some people that said I won it because of the timing line," said Keselowski. "I knew this [car] was fast enough to win the race last fall with or without timing lines. It feels so good to just prove it here today in the spring race.
"Matt raced me hard and I raced him hard. We rubbed a little bit, but that's good racing... This is one of the best races I've ever been a part of and ever seen from behind the seat.
"I'm just thrilled to death to be here in victory lane at Bristol again, one of my favourite places for sure. If this team keeps performing like they are, we'll get more."
Kenseth had a solid run to second, moving up to third in the standings on a day where he was Roush Fenway's main contender.
"When we started that last run and got out in the lead and got air in the nose, plus we picked up something and I just got too lose," said Kenseth. "I knew that I wasn't going to have enough traction, more than likely, to hold him off."
Michael Waltrip Racing enjoyed its best Cup outing ever, the three-car organisation rounding out the top-five with Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer and series returnee Brian Vickers.
All of them were top-five contenders for most of the running, Truex recovering from a slow pit stop to finish third after choosing to stay out with the leaders on the final caution.
Bowyer pitted from third but bounced back to finish fourth, while Vickers impressed on his first outing of the year and for the Toyota team, leading 125 laps and finishing fifth, also choosing to stay out in the final caution.
Richard Childress Racing's Jeff Burton was sixth, ahead of the Earnhardt Ganassi duo of Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya, both making steady progress during the 500 laps in the outfit's best race of the season so far. Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick) was ninth behind them, while RCR's Paul Menard rounded out the top-10.
Some big names ended their day in typical Bristol fashion, such as five-time event winner Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Marcos Ambrose, who were part of Kahne's early incident.
Jeff Gordon also had a strong run ended after contact with Hendrick teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. while battling for position damaged his left-rear tire and caused him to spin and hit the inside wall hard.
Reigning champion Tony Stewart was a victim of RCR's Brendan Gaughan, who hit him and caused the No. 14 Chevrolet to spin and hit the wall backwards while among the top 10, bringing out the caution for the fifth and final time.
Results - 500 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge 2h51m52.000s
2. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford + 0.714s
3. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota + 1.156s
4. Clint Bowyer Waltrip Toyota + 2.170s
5. Brian Vickers Waltrip Toyota + 3.312s
6. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet + 3.590s
7. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 3.956s
8. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 4.261s
9. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet + 4.513s
10. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet + 5.005s
11. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet + 5.277s
12. Ryan Newman Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 6.480s
13. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford + 6.759s
14. Tony Stewart Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 9.538s
15. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet + 11.404s
16. Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota + 2 laps
17. AJ Allmendinger Penske Dodge + 2 laps
18. Kurt Busch Phoenix Chevrolet + 2 laps
19. Aric Almirola Petty Ford + 2 laps
20. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota + 2 laps
21. David Reutimann Baldwin Chevrolet + 3 laps
22. Brendan Gaughan Childress Chevrolet + 4 laps
23. David Ragan Front Row Ford + 4 laps
24. Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevrolet + 4 laps
25. Casey Mears Germain Ford + 4 laps
26. David Gilliland Front Row Ford + 4 laps
27. Travis Kvapil BK Toyota + 4 laps
28. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota + 5 laps
29. Landon Cassill BK Toyota + 5 laps
30. JJ Yeley Robinson-Blakeney Toyota + 7 laps
31. Michael McDowell Parsons Ford + 8 laps
32. Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota + 77 laps
33. Ken Schrader FAS Lane Ford + 80 laps
34. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet + 83 laps
35. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet + 105 laps
36. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford + 111 laps
37. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Chevrolet + 134 laps
David Stremme Inception Toyota 334 laps
Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford 245 laps
Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 57 laps
Scott Riggs R3 Chevrolet 26 laps
Reed Sorenson Turn One Chevrolet 17 laps
Josh Wise Front Row Ford 16 laps