Tony Stewart all but secured his seeding for the Sprint Cup series play-off with his third victory of the season and his fifth ever at Watkins Glen.
The two-time champion confirmed his title ambitions with a perfect drive from the lowest he had ever been on the grid in his previous 10 starts at the 2.45-mile road course.
Following the second consecutive rain-related race postponement of the year, Stewart made his way to the front by virtue of his speed and the right strategy to then claim the lead from his former teammate Kyle Busch with 24 laps remaining, driving on his outside into Turn 1 on the penultimate restart.
He then pulled away as Busch seemed to struggle with the balance of his car, but with 19 of the 90 laps scheduled still left, the final caution came out to provide another chance for Stewart's rivals. By then, Australian Marcos Ambrose had moved up to second while Busch had slipped down to fourth.
Most of the front-runners were right on the edge of their fuel mileage in the closing stages but that fifth caution of the day allowed them to stretch their running all the way to the chequered flag, putting fuel calculations out of the equation.
Stewart selected the inside line for the final restart, and he succeeded at staying ahead when the green flag waved. Ambrose tried to keep up the pressure and was able to do so for a while, but his tyres had 14 more laps of running than those of Stewart, as the former V8 Supercar champion had pitted only for fuel on his final stop while running a different sequence.
In the end, Stewart took his seventh road-course win in NASCAR, which puts him at the top of the list of victories at Watkins Glen.
"Both on the inside and outside we were able to get good jumps on the restarts," said Stewart. "That was really key for us. Especially when we did it the second time on the opposite side after [Kyle Busch] chose the other side the first time and we still beat him.
"I though that was a pretty big moment for us showing our strength. At that point it was just a matter of watching Marcos who had come up to second, making sure in the restart that we didn't give him an opening to out-break us, and we just protected our spot like everybody else did all day.
"We were able to pull away and get just enough of a gap to run my line, run my pace and then do the things that I needed to do to get my car good."
Ambrose got close to completing a full sweep at the Glen after winning on Saturday in the Nationwide Series. He led the race for nine laps but ran a very different sequence to that of Stewart and most of the front-runners.
On his final stop, he jumped sixteen places by putting fuel only – but that very move probably cost him some speed in the end, as temperatures rose on Monday relative to Friday and Saturday, making tires a bit more of a factor than he probably anticipated. However, the Australian still claimed his best career result in the Sprint Cup series with his first runner-up placing.
"We came in and splashed off fuel, didn't put tyres on it," said Ambrose about his final stop. "I think that was the difference between first and second here this afternoon, was just the extra laps I did on my tyres, probably eight or ten or more laps than Tony.
"I could close in on him, I could see him starting to make a few little mistakes, locking tyres, but not enough for me to catch him."
Carl Edwards ran probably his best road course race ever to finish third, having started from 33rd on the grid. He was one of those postponing their final stop as much as possible in order to gain track position for the final portion of the race. He actually ran out of fuel on the last lap but had enough to finish ahead of last year's winner Kyle Busch, his teammate Greg Biffle and Juan Pablo Montoya.
"I was trying to save [fuel] for later, but then I saw Tony and Marcos were coming back a little bit - I got real excited, real greedy - and I used up a little too much, so then I had to save more at the end," said Edwards. "Man, that's good. That's not a win, but, for me, that's a good run here at Watkins Glen."
The race was marked by a violent crash ignited by contact between Kasey Kahne and Sam Hornish Jr at the exit of Turn 9 on lap 62. The Penske driver got pushed against the tyre barrier when Kahne got loose on his inside, bounced right in the middle of the track, and was collected at speed and head on by Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton.
All drivers were unharmed in the wreck, which caused a 20-minute red flag recess as officials worked to clean all the debris on the track surface.
Italian Max Papis scored his best Sprint Cup career result with eighth, driving the #13 Toyota for Germain Racing, finishing right behind early race leader Kurt Busch, who got shuffled back with the wrong strategy.
Polesitter Jimmie Johnson didn't manage to put an end to his road course burden despite leading the race for four laps. He spun at Turn 1 while running third on lap 54 and just managed a 12th place finish in the end, while Pocono winner Denny Hamlin recovered from an early pit-road penalty while running second to cross the finish line tenth.
Stewart continues to lead the Sprint Cup series standings with only four races left to the start of the Chase. By merely taking the green flag next weekend at Michigan, he will automatically secure his place in the title battle.
Pos Driver Make Laps
1. Tony Stewart Chevrolet 90
2. Marcos Ambrose Toyota 90
3. Carl Edwards Ford 90
4. Kyle Busch Toyota 90
5. Greg Biffle Ford 90
6. Juan Montoya Chevrolet 90
7. Kurt Busch Dodge 90
8. Max Papis Toyota 90
9. Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 90
10. Denny Hamlin Toyota 90
11. Brian Vickers Toyota 90
12. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 90
13. AJ Allmendinger Dodge 90
14. Matt Kenseth Ford 90
15. Casey Mears Chevrolet 90
16. Joey Logano Toyota 90
17. Kasey Kahne Dodge 90
18. Robby Gordon Toyota 90
19. Paul Menard Ford 90
20. Bobby Labonte Ford 90
21. Ryan Newman Chevrolet 90
22. Scott Speed Toyota 90
23. Mark Martin Chevrolet 90
24. David Ragan Ford 90
25. David Reutimann Toyota 90
26. David Stremme Dodge 90
27. Andy Lally Chevrolet 90
28. Martin Truex Jr Chevrolet 90
29. Ron Fellows Chevrolet 84
30. John Andretti Chevrolet 84
31. Reed Sorenson Dodge 78
32. Elliott Sadler Dodge 78
33. Patrick Carpentier Toyota 78
34. Boris Said Ford 74
35. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 68
36. Sam Hornish Jr Dodge 61
37. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 61
38. Jeff Burton Chevrolet 61
39. Dale Earnhardt Jr Chevrolet 60
40. Jamie McMurray Ford 58
41. PJ Jones Toyota 13
42. Dave Blaney Toyota 11
43. Tony Ave Dodge 8