Mark Martin claimed his first victory since 2005 with a dominant performance in the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.
The 50-year-old veteran started from pole and led nearly half of the race, fending off a late attack from Tony Stewart following a caution period with 12 laps remaining, caused when Dale Earnhardt Jr made contact with the wall after being tapped by Casey Mears.
Martin and all the leaders pitted for tires during that last caution period and he was able to come up front in a tight battle out of pit road against Kyle Busch and Stewart. Busch would eventually be penalized for speeding off the pits, while Ryan Newman led the field into the final restart after choosing not to pit.
The Hendrick driver quickly disposed of Newman driving on his outside between turns one and two to retake the lead, while Stewart did his best but was unable to catch Martin, who proved to be the class of the field all weekend long while taking a very popular victory.
As he celebrated on victory lane, a good number of drivers and team owners were quick to go and congratulate him on his first victory of the season.
"This is a dream come true," said Martin after breaking a 97-race winless streak with his 36th Sprint Cup career victory. "I've got to thank Rick Hendrick for making this an incredible day in my life. This [ranks] first. This is number one.
"I thought of 1989 with Jack Roush when we got our first win at Rockingham I said, 'My life is fulfilled.' And I thought of saying that again tonight. But I'll stop short of that. It means that much, just as much as getting that first [win] to me."
Stewart continued to make progress with his recently formed squad, getting his best result of the season and showing that a first win as an owner is not far. He led 19 laps when he overtook Earnhardt Jr for the lead on lap 220 and ran consistently again among the top-five.
The two-time champion was not disappointed to have lost to Martin for once.
"We were just a tick off but there's no shame in losing to a guy like Mark Martin tonight," said Stewart. "I don't think there's anybody that's not a Mark Martin fan. It was an awesome night for our organization and awesome night for Mark.
"Nobody works harder to stay in shape to be good and be fit and to be ready to go than Mark does. And when you see somebody that works that hard at it, you like to see the results come for him, too."
Kurt Busch was third in the end after a bumpy start to his race, which saw him make contact with the wall and with a couple of cars early on. He led a good number of laps in the first half of the race but he admitted to have lost any chance of winning when he damaged his car against the barrier.
"I was the one that made the mistake out on the trap," said Busch. "A lapped car had fresh tires and we had old tires, and I got the car in the fence on turn four and it bent up the suspension because there was concrete inside the wheels. That's when you have a pretty good hit, and so I felt like I took our chances away at competing for the win.
"But to battle back to third, that's a great effort from this team right now, and the way that our season has gone, just nice and steady. I'm just pumped up. I thought that was an excellent day for us."
Reigning champion Jimmie Johnson recovered in the last part of the race to finish fourth in a day where he didn't look as competitive as in his past three races at Phoenix, leading only one lap all race long.
He actually lost third place in a hard battle with Busch in the last sprint of the race and faced a number of issues with lug nuts in the pits, which hampered his progress.
Greg Biffle rounded out the top five in a somber day for the Roush Fenway stable as none of their drivers were able to lead a lap at all.
"I couldn't get in the lead," said Biffle. "There were about three guys tonight better than me - the 5 (Martin) and the 2 (Kurt Busch) were just a little bit better and I think I could run with everybody else.
"Those two guys were a little bit better than I was, but, other than that, we just need to work on it harder and be better for next time."
But it was probably Dale Earnhardt Jr who ended up with the biggest disappointment of the night. He stayed out during the fifth caution of the day to gain track position and after the next round of pitstops was completed he actually found himself leading the race once again, although he seemed to be a few laps short of fuel to make it to the end.
However he struggled with a very loose car from then on and quickly lost the lead back to Martin. He tried to hang on to a top-five placing but he actually dropped a lap down before Mears touched him entering turn three in the closing stages of the race.
Earnhardt actually retaliated against the Childress driver when the race was over tapping him into a spin, while the Californian responded by crashing into the back of Earnhardt's car while driving into the pits.
Martin Truex Jr claimed his best result of the season with seventh in the first weekend running a unified chassis with teammate Juan Pablo Montoya following seven races experimenting with two different cars in the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing camp.
Sam Hornish Jr. scored his best result of the season with a sold ninth place - his first top-ten in a Sprint Cup race - that allowed him to move up in the ranking after spending a few weeks already close to the top-35 cut in the car owner standing.
Points' leader Jeff Gordon ran well until he was forced to pit again following his last scheduled stop due to a missing lug nut on his left-front tire. As he had to pit under green, he dropped a lap down and could only manage to finish 25th, which still allows him to retain the lead in the championship.
Pos Driver Make Laps
1. Mark Martin Chevrolet 312
2. Tony Stewart Chevrolet 312
3. Kurt Busch Dodge 312
4. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 312
5. Greg Biffle Ford 312
6. Denny Hamlin Toyota 312
7. Martin Truex Jr Chevrolet 312
8. David Reutimann Toyota 312
9. Sam Hornish Jr Dodge 312
10. Carl Edwards Ford 312
11. Jamie McMurray Ford 312
12. Reed Sorenson Dodge 312
13. Kasey Kahne Dodge 312
14. Marcos Ambrose Toyota 312
15. Jeff Burton Chevrolet 312
16. Ryan Newman Chevrolet 312
17. Kyle Busch Toyota 312
18. David Stremme Dodge 311
19. Brian Vickers Toyota 311
20. Casey Mears Chevrolet 311
21. Joey Logano Toyota 311
22. David Ragan Ford 311
23. Paul Menard Ford 311
24. Juan Montoya Chevrolet 311
25. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 311
26. Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 311
27. Matt Kenseth Ford 311
28. Regan Smith Chevrolet 311
29. Bobby Labonte Ford 311
30. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 311
31. Dale Earnhardt Jr Chevrolet 310
32. Elliott Sadler Dodge 310
33. David Gilliland Chevrolet 310
34. Scott Speed Toyota 310
35. AJ Allmendinger Dodge 309
36. Scott Riggs Toyota 307
37. Michael Waltrip Toyota 307
38. John Andretti Chevrolet 307
39. Robby Gordon Toyota 243
40. Sterling Marlin Dodge 117
41. Joe Nemechek Toyota 76
42. Dave Blaney Toyota 59
43. Tony Raines Dodge 56