Greg Biffle opted for a two-tyre stop and duly emerged first from pit road, but Harvick passed him at the green even though it was just two laps before the caution flags were out again on lap 162 for a backstretch spin by Landon Cassill. This time Earnhardt was blameless and duly got the free pass back into the lead lap after all. The next green flag similarly only lasted four laps before the cautions kept on coming: Paul Menard hit the wall this time and had to crawl to the garage area for a 79-lap visit for repairs that meant his Chase hopes were dashed, while Regan Smith spun in a simultaneous incident but fortunately kept away from the unforgiving walls.
Another green, and this time we got seven laps in before the next caution, which was sparked by Kurt Busch getting into Jimmie Johnson into turn 1 on lap 185 which also caught up Juan Montoya; Jeff Gordon, David Ragan and Ryan Newman had to work overtime to avoid the melée. Johnson was not happy and targeted Busch for retaliation on lap 246 which brought out the 11th caution of the night; ironically Busch got away lightly and it was Johnson who ended up on pit road for 34 laps for repairs. (See separate story for more details
on the Johnson/Busch fall-out.)
By this point Harvick had faded from the lead and been replaced in front by Carl Edwards on lap 202. He kept the lead through the caution and pit stops for the second act of the Johnson/Busch battle, and also through the next caution on lap 284 for a spin by Jeff Burton into the wall at turn 3. There was a 13th caution half a dozen laps later for Marcos Ambrose spinning again, and Joey Logano's race ended under the ensuing caution when his engine emphatically demonstrate that it simply wasn't going to cooperate any more.
The race avoided going yellow again when Landon Cassill spun on lap 304, but had no such luck when David Reutimann slammed into the wall on lap 309 after contact with Clint Bowyer to bring out the 14th caution. Edwards and Matt Kenseth were among the few not to use this latest opportunity to dive into pit road again, Edwards mindful of past races where he has been caught out taking to pit road and losing track position to those who stayed out. This time the situation was reversed - he would stay out, but have the older tyres. And the difference in fresh rubber immediately told as Edwards slipped out of the lead at the restart on lap 314 and Harvick was back in charge. Edwards fell back to fourth place, but when he was told that he was still ten laps short on fuel to make it to the end of the race the question marks about why he hadn't come in under the caution with everyone else only multiplied.
"I don't know why we didn't pit," Edwards said. "I think Bob [Osborne, his crew chief] thought that there was going to be another caution. We were kind of getting caution after caution, and we just thought more guys would stay out."
As the race neared its climax, now the star of the show was Jeff Gordon who was charging his way up to the front, finally taking the lead on lap 378 with just 22 laps remaining and looking set to claim the race win as he pulled out a comfortable one second lead.
But the race had one more twist - or rather, a record-equalling 15th caution - to play out, which materialised on lap 384 when Paul Menard spun on the backstretch to break Gordon's momentum at the critical moment. Menard's Richard Childress Racing team mate Kevin Harvick won the race off pit road with the #24 consequently stuck on the outside line, a situation that irked Gordon no end.
"I thought it was interesting when I saw a Childress car sitting down this in the grass," said Gordon wryly.
"To know with 20 laps to go you're driving away with the lead, I was feeling pretty good about that. I didn't want to see a caution," he admitted. "But we dealt with it. We didn't have the best of pit stops. I didn't do them any favours. I didn't get into the box as good as I needed to. We got beat off pit road, plain and simple."
Harvick took the restart on lap 388, quickly jumping away from Jeff Gordon who was left battling with - and losing to - Carl Edwards, the latter man mighty relieved that he'd had another chance to pit under caution after all before the fuel situation had forced him in under green.
After Edwards won that battle he set off in pursuit of Harvick, but it was now too late to make it. "I should have been able to win that race. I just didn't get a good enough restart, didn't get by Jeff to have a lap or two once I got to Kevin. We learned a lesson." It certainly wasn't for lack of effort, the #99 practically sideways off turn 4 for the last time as Kevin Harvick claimed the chequered flag ahead.