The race was just six laps shy of the lead when Patrick Carpentier brought out the ninth and final caution on lap 328, setting up a high-stakes restart with everything to play for. Harvick opted to pit for fresh tyres but eight cars stayed out, Hamlin and Johnson among them, meaning Harvick would start from tenth and have to hustle and go three-wide to make up the lost ground in the two laps remaining between the restart and the chequered flag.
Biffle's gear problems once again played a critical role at the restart: this time hindering Jimmie Johnson. Up front, Hamlin was trying to fend off a spirited charge from Matt Kenseth, and initially it seemed that Kenseth had taken the lead going into the final lap - only for Kenseth to overcook it and make contact with the wall, losing the lead before the scoring line and white flag, and crucially losing momentum that meant Hamlin was able to run the final lap to the finish without further challenge.
It was a smart, mature display from Hamlin, working his way through the field, sticking close to the top ten throughout, never feeling the need to barge his way to the front until the final 28 laps when it really mattered. It deservedly puts him at the top of the Sprint Cup standings, and while 33pts is far from safe in a series where the winner can claim 200pts in a weekend it's certainly a boost to his championship hopes at the most critical time of the year. And Kevin Harvick is far from out of contention in third place, just 59pts back.
Meanwhile, going into the final two races from behind rather than out in front will come as a major shock to Johnson and Knaus, whose aura of Chase infallibility takes a dent following the need to swap out the entire pit crew midrace - a moment of ruthlessness, or of blind panic? Either way could have serious consequences to the team in the final two weeks.