Jamie McMurray claimed his first victory for more then two years after a wild finish at Talladega Superspeeday, while Jimmie Johnson further extended his lead in the standings to close on his fourth consecutive Sprint Cup title.
The Roush Fenway Ford driver was leading the field when the caution came out at the start of the final lap, as the usual "big one" ignited behind him – Brad Keselowski hitting the back of his future Penske team-mate Kurt Busch while officials were attempting a green-white-checkered finish.
McMurray, who still has to find a drive for next year, recovered well from a penalty for entering a closed pitlane early on, and became a factor in the last portion of the race, spending a race-high 32 laps in the lead.
The final caution was instrumental in his win as it dashed his rivals hopes of trying the usual last-lap moves that have become tradition at Talladega. McMurray also managed to save enough fuel to make it to the end after incidents forced the race to be extended beyond the scheduled distance.
"I saw the guys wreck behind me and I didn't know if you had to take the white [flag] in order. I wasn't real sure what the rules were, and the nine car [Kasey Kahne] went to the outside because he saw the same issue, but I just moved up and kind of tried to block him," said McMurray.
"As soon as I crossed the start-finish line I shut the engine off and pushed the clutch in and coasted around as far as I could. What an exciting day."
The final incident, which involved at least 13 cars, caught out many of the title contenders. Mark Martin's car flipped over, while his Hendrick teammate Jeff Gordon, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kurt Busch all ended up wrecking as well.
Meanwhile, the defending champion was able to finish sixth, after spending most of the race hanging at the back of the field. His big break came when he pitted for the last time during the penultimate caution, caused by Ryan Newman's car flipping over after being hit from behind by Marcos Ambrose.
The incident, which also involved title contender Tony Stewart, happened with only three laps to go. Immediately a few drivers decided to pit, Johnson being one of them, while others preferred to stay on the track to gain track position, a move that would eventually backfire on most of them.
Officials took longer than expected to clean the track, after the race was halted for nearly 13 minutes to cut the roof of Newman's car, so that he could clamber out. The field circulated for two more laps behind the pace car, extending the scheduled race distance and getting a number of cars in trouble with their fuel mileage.
An initial attempt to restart the race was aborted then as many drivers ran out of fuel, one of them being Jeff Gordon. Others like Montoya, David Stremme and Max Papis, faced similar dramas, and the extra lap of caution allowed them to pit for a splash of fuel to finish the race – Gordon's car arriving to the pits after being pushed by a service truck.
Johnson, who had pitted earlier, jumped up in the order as many took the opportunity to pit for fuel. That left him well-positioned for the final sprint, and prevented him from getting involved in the final wreck, which happened right behind him.
"I was really concerned under the red flag for Newman's crash and was like, 'What do I do? How do I get to the front?' [Crew chief] Chad [Knaus] said these guys might run out of gas and I didn't want to believe too much in that because we're 25th and I don't want to hope for some of that to take place but they started running out of gas," said Johnson.
"There's another car then the 24 [Gordon], then the five [Martin] hits pit road and I'm like 'Man, this isn't Halloween, this is an early Christmas present.' So we got through here well. I did not expect that. With the green-white-checker restart I thought we were 20th at the best and we came home with a top 10."
Before all the action unfolded in the closing laps, the race had been a processional one as drivers tried to avoid the usual bump-drafting at Talladega, following a warning from officials during the drivers' meeting, about possible drive-through penalties for those bumping in the turns.
Joey Logano finished third in his Joe Gibbs Toyota, while Roush Fenway's Greg Biffle and RCR's Jeff Burton rounded out the top-five. Among the Chasers, another one hitting trouble was Denny Hamlin, who looked a strong contender for victory before retiring with his second engine failure during The Chase.
Johnson now has a 184-point gap to Martin – one point more than he had a year ago before winning his third consecutive title.
Pos Driver Car Laps
1. Jamie McMurray Ford 191
2. Kasey Kahne Dodge 191
3. Joey Logano Toyota 191
4. Greg Biffle Ford 191
5. Jeff Burton Chevrolet 191
6. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 191
7. Michael Waltrip Toyota 191
8. Brad Keselowski Chevrolet 191
9. Elliott Sadler Ford 191
10. Bobby Labonte Chevrolet 191
11. Dale Earnhardt Jr Chevrolet 191
12. Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 191
13. Brian Vickers Toyota 191
14. Carl Edwards Ford 191
15. Kyle Busch Toyota 191
16. Reed Sorenson Dodge 191
17. David Ragan Ford 191
18. Robert Richardson Jr Toyota 191
19. Juan Pablo Montoya Chevrolet 191
20. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 191
21. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 191
22. David Stremme Dodge 191
23. John Andretti Chevrolet 191
24. Matt Kenseth Ford 191
25. Casey Mears Chevrolet 191
26. David Reutimann Toyota 191
27. Scott Speed Toyota 190
28. Mark Martin Chevrolet 190
29. Max Papis Toyota 190
30. Kurt Busch Dodge 189
31. Martin Truex Jr Chevrolet 189
32. Robby Gordon Toyota 189
33. AJ Allmendinger Dodge 189
34. Marcos Ambrose Toyota 188
35. Tony Stewart Chevrolet 183
36. Ryan Newman Chevrolet 183
37. Erik Darnell Ford 167
38. Denny Hamlin Toyota 137
39. Regan Smith Chevrolet 99
40. Sam Hornish Jr Dodge 44
41. Dave Blaney Toyota 12
42. Paul Menard Ford 4
43. Joe Nemechek Toyota 4