Mark Martin scored his fourth NASCAR Sprint Cup victory of the season in dominant fashion at Chicagoland Speedway.
The 50-year-old veteran led 195 out of 267 laps on his way to a win that puts him back inside the top 12 in the championship. For the most part he did not seem to have any close rivals but some caution periods in the closing stages of the race spiced up the battle for victory, from which he still came out on top.
Martin first grabbed the lead when the field led by Jimmie Johnson pitted under caution for the first time on lap 41. The No. 5 crew was quickest in changing four tires and filling up the tank and after that Martin seemed to be in a different league to his rivals, making the most of the clean air while easily running the bottom lane on the banking.
However following the fourth caution of the day, caused by an incident between Joey Logano and Sam Hornish Jr. on the backstretch, Johnson was able to overtake Martin on the outside, pulling out a move that he had failed to complete on previous restarts.
Another caution came five laps later for an accident in Turn 1 involving Paul Menard, Jamie McMurray, Jeff Burton and Scott Speed. On the restart Martin was unable to get the lead back but he would get a further chance a handful of laps later when the sixth caution of the race came out 20 laps from the end.
As the green flag waved, things got mad at the front the field on the double-file restart. Polesitter Brian Vickers entered Turn 1 side by side with Johnson, while Denny Hamlin was able to dig a hole in between them, forcing the reigning champion to leave room to avoid contact.
Johnson got a slow exit out of Turn 2 and came under attack from those behind him while Vickers and Hamlin battled hard up front. On the next lap, the Red Bull driver got loose on the inside of Hamlin, the pair made contact and skidded up the banking leaving room for Martin to retake the lead.
Only seven laps from the end the caution came out for one final time when Kyle Busch made contact with the barrier after the engine on his Toyota blew up, putting an end to what had been until then a miserable run.
Martin then had to face the challenge of Jeff Gordon, who had fresher tires than him. The four-time champion had made the most of the battles unfolding ahead of him by simply avoiding getting involved in them.
Martin chose the outside lane on the final restart to avoid a repeat of what had happened with Johnson earlier but he did not have to worry too much as Gordon was slow off the line. As Martin pulled away to claim his fourth win of the season, Gordon was left with his hands full defending the runner-up spot from a challenging Kasey Kahne.
"That was fun! That's what life's all about right there," said Martin, who dedicated his win to Rick Hendrick a day ahead of his 60th birthday. "These guys deserve to win. We could have parked the car yesterday with an hour left in practice. But you know the best car doesn't usually win.
"The double-file restarts are to mess the best car up so he doesn't win to make it good for the fans, and it did but we luckily pulled it off anyway."
Gordon made a great charge following his last stop, where he took on fresh tires and restarted from 10th. However he lamented not making the most of it when it counted on the final restart against Martin.
"On that last restart, Mark went a little early, which he should have," Gordon said. "That is strategy that you have got to take in to account on the final restart. It caught me a little off guard and I spun the tires.
"Then Kasey Kahne was really strong on the outside. He got to the outside of me and I had to fight hard to get by him. I didn't know that was the last lap, I thought I had another lap to try to get Mark. Still, a great one-two finish."
Kahne was the biggest mover in the championship with his third place, which allowed him to move up to eighth place in the standings, having entered the race in 12th place. The Richard Petty Motorsports driver moved up quickly in the order early on from 15th on the grid and ran in the top five for most of the distance.
"Races like this, nights like this you can gain those points," Kahne said. "Try to stay in that top 12. That's what it's all about, making the Chase. The guys had great pit stops tonight. They've been on a roll with that. The car was good from the drop of the green.
"We made some adjustments, kept trying to make it better. Those restarts at the end were tough. It was a battle. There were a lot of good cars battling."
Points leader Tony Stewart and Hamlin rounded out the top five, while Johnson slid down to eighth in the end due to the damage on his car, caused by an incident with Kurt Busch after he lost the lead on the penultimate restart.
Behind Johnson, Clint Bowyer and Juan Pablo Montoya completed the top 10, with the Colombian moving up to ninth in the drivers' standings, his best placing in the championship to date. The battle for the last few spots in the top 12 has tightened up though, with only 51 points now separating Kahne from 13th-placed Greg Biffle.
With four wins to his name already, Martin now leads the series in numbers of wins and has 40 bonus points that would count towards his Chase seeding if he makes the series' play-off.RESULTS:
Pos Driver Car Laps
1. Mark Martin Chevrolet 267
2. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 267
3. Kasey Kahne Dodge 267
4. Tony Stewart Chevrolet 267
5. Denny Hamlin Toyota 267
6. Ryan Newman Chevrolet 267
7. Brian Vickers Toyota 267
8. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 267
9. Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 267
10. Juan Montoya Chevrolet 267
11. Marcos Ambrose Toyota 267
12. David Reutimann Toyota 267
13. AJ Allmendinger Dodge 267
14. Carl Edwards Ford 267
15. Dale Earnhardt Jr Chevrolet 267
16. Martin Truex Jr Chevrolet 267
17. Kurt Busch Dodge 267
18. Joey Logano Toyota 267
19. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 267
20. Michael Waltrip Toyota 266
21. Bobby Labonte Ford 266
22. Jamie McMurray Ford 266
23. Matt Kenseth Ford 266
24. Reed Sorenson Dodge 265
25. David Ragan Ford 265
26. David Stremme Dodge 265
27. Elliott Sadler Dodge 265
28. Casey Mears Chevrolet 265
29. Bill Elliott Ford 265
30. John Andretti Chevrolet 265
31. Greg Biffle Ford 265
32. Brad Keselowski Chevrolet 265
33. Kyle Busch Toyota 257
34. Robby Gordon Toyota 237
35. Paul Menard Ford 226
36. Scott Speed Toyota 226
37. Jeff Burton Chevrolet 224
38. Sam Hornish Jr Dodge 217
39. Mike Skinner Toyota 60
40. Mike Bliss Dodge 58
41. Joe Nemechek Toyota 30
42. David Gilliland Chevrolet 11
43. Dave Blaney Toyota 10