Brian Vickers stretched his fuel mileage enough to claim Red Bull's first Sprint Cup victory at Michigan International Speedway.
Vickers started the race from pole position for the sixth time this year and ran for most of the afternoon as one of the top contenders for victory, although Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin looked to be the fastest cars of the day, leading more than three quarters of the distance between them.
However, once again at Michigan fuel mileage became a factor in the closing stages of the race and suddenly the fastest cars of the day were forced to get on fuel-saving mode following their last stop. Johnson led the group of drivers who were short on gas when the green flag waved for the final restart with 38 laps to go.
The Red Bull Toyota of Vickers briefly took the lead from Johnson, but then the Hendrick driver regained the lead and both of them started to pull away from third-placed Mark Martin. From behind, Dale Earnhardt Jr started to quickly move up the field after taking advantage of the last caution to pit for the final time and therefore had enough to make it to the end.
Vickers tried to get in Johnson's draft as much as he could to try to save more fuel than the Hendrick driver, who eventually ran out of gas with three laps to go.
As it were, those laps behind Johnson and some fuel-saving during the last two cautions, allowed Vickers to stretch his fuel mileage enough to be able to cross the finish line first only for the second time in his career in the Sprint Cup series, and for the first time for his team in a points-paying race in NASCAR's top series.
"It was tough, there was a part of me that was terrified because I knew there was a chance that we would run out [of fuel], but there was a part of me that was kind of excited," said Vickers about the penultimate lap when he inherited the lead after Johnson ran out of gas.
"I knew what we needed to save. We went through the exact same thing here last time. I was told to save three laps and I saved four. I did the same thing all over again, so I really felt we had the fuel to get to the end - but you just never know, and the last thing I wanted to do, trying to get in the Chase, was running out of fuel. We were lucky today."
Vickers' victory allowed him to move up in the drivers standing to 13th place, only 12 points off from Mark Martin's 12th position with just three races to go before the Chase starts.
Jeff Gordon also saved enough fuel to make it to the end and finish second, also taking second in the championship from Johnson. His last stop - as that of Vickers and Johnson – was on lap 149 with 51 still remaining. In normal conditions the maximum fuel mileage was 45 laps, and since they pitted for the last time, only eight laps were run under caution.
"I really felt confident we were going to make it, even though [crew chief] Steve [Letarte] told me we were four short when we left pit road that last pit stop," Gordon said. "I shut the engine off so much. I felt like I got us six laps. At least with the caution, I felt like I did. Felt pretty confident I didn't have to conserve a whole lot. [Dale Earnhardt] Junior was pressuring me a lot at the end. I was waiting, to see if the 48 [Johnson] and 83 [Vickers] ran out. One did, one didn't."
Earnhardt Jr. finished third as he didn't have enough speed to be able to make the most of not having to worry about fuel mileage in the end. He led the race for 6 laps after staying out when the leaders pitted for the last time during the penultimate caution. His third place comes as his best result with his new crew chief Lance McGrew.
"I was trying to catch them," said Earnhardt. "I think I was there. We were the fastest car up until we got to within about 15 car-lengths of Jeff. I got real tight. I'm sure by that time, they have to race for the win eventually.
"Somebody is going to start to try to chance it first. It looked like Vickers was the one that did that. He pushed the 48 much harder than probably Jimmie was wanting to go."
Carl Edwards, regarded as one of the best fuel-savers in the field, was also in the same window as the leaders and succeeded at finishing fourth without an additional stop. Behind him Sam Hornish Jr finished fifth in the same strategy, scoring his second career top five in the Sprint Cup Series.
Casey Mears was sixth, scoring his best result of the year while rookie Joey Logano impressed on his second Cup race at Michigan with seventh.
Mark Martin, winner at Michigan in June also on fuel mileage, was running 11th in the final laps but he also ran out of gas and crossed the finish line in 31st place, dropping down in the drivers standing.
It wasn't a good day either for points' leader Tony Stewart, who ran out of sequence at one point to try to gain track position but could only manage a 17th place in the end. Kurt Busch also had a rough day, crashing into David Ragan after making contact with him on lap 120, dropping two spots in the championship as a consequence.
Juan Pablo Montoya was involved in an incident as well, when Kasey Kahne punctured his left-rear tire, causing him to lose a lap, as he had to pit under green. The Colombian managed to get back on the lead lap and finish 19th, which was enough for him to keep seventh place in the points, although with less of a cushion to a menacing Vickers.
Pos Driver Make Laps
1. Brian Vickers Toyota 200
2. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 200
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr Chevrolet 200
4. Carl Edwards Ford 200
5. Sam Hornish Jr Dodge 200
6. Casey Mears Chevrolet 200
7. Joey Logano Toyota 200
8. Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 200
9. David Reutimann Toyota 200
10. Denny Hamlin Toyota 200
11. Kasey Kahne Dodge 200
12. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 200
13. David Stremme Dodge 200
14. Matt Kenseth Ford 200
15. Ryan Newman Chevrolet 200
16. Bill Elliott Ford 200
17. Tony Stewart Chevrolet 200
18. Jeff Burton Chevrolet 200
19. Juan Montoya Chevrolet 200
20. Greg Biffle Ford 200
21. Martin Truex Jr Chevrolet 200
22. AJ Allmendinger Dodge 200
23. Kyle Busch Toyota 200
24. Brad Keselowski Chevrolet 200
25. Elliott Sadler Dodge 200
26. Paul Menard Ford 200
27. Michael Waltrip Toyota 200
28. John Andretti Chevrolet 200
29. Reed Sorenson Dodge 200
30. David Ragan Ford 200
31. Mark Martin Chevrolet 200
32. Jamie McMurray Ford 200
33. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 199
34. Scott Speed Toyota 199
35. Marcos Ambrose Toyota 199
36. Kurt Busch Dodge 146
37. Robby Gordon Toyota 97
38. Mike Bliss Dodge 62
39. Joe Nemechek Toyota 40
40. David Gilliland Chevrolet 39
41. Mike Skinner Toyota 33
42. Dave Blaney Toyota 18
43. Bobby Labonte Ford 18