It was a stroke of luck for Jimmie Johnson, who had already taken to pit road for his last fuel-and-tyres visit of the day. That meant he could go ahead and complete the stop, while everyone else had to wait for pit road to reopen: once they did, Johnson duly took the lead for the restart ahead of Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon.
All the drivers sensed this was the pivotal moment of the race: Johnson made the most of the clean air and leapt away in front leaving a three-wide battle for second. Busch initially won out over Gordon only to then trip over Kenseth, dropping him briefly down to fourth until he powered his way back past them both through the high line of turn 4. But by this time, Johnson was off in the distance and Kyle admitted he thought that was that as far as fighting for the race win went.
"I didn't think there was any way I was going to run him back down," he said. "I think I restarted fourth, and Jimmie was gone, like in three laps. I was like, 'holy cow!'"
But once free of competition for second, Kyle was soon hunting down Johnson for the lead and it was clear that this was going to be a two-horse race unless there was a late caution to close the cars up again. Kyle had the stronger car and took the lead again through turn 1 on lap 188, but Johnson stayed all over the back of the #18 and was determined to hold on for a last-lap lunge.
As the end of the race came within sight, it was Kyle's brother Kurt who was hanging on for dear life further down the field in 11th, getting sideways on lap 191 and only just saving the car from the full-scale wreck. His luck ran out six laps later and he put the #22 into the wall on lap 197, forcing the fifth and final caution of the day - and inadvertently wiping out the safety margin his brother Kyle had been eking out in the lead. The #18 would now have to survive a green-white-chequered restart, just days after losing at Watkins Glen in a similar situation.
But this time there was no problem for Kyle: he blasted away from Johnson without a problem, took the white flag and then had an easy lap to the chequered as well, albeit only by 0.568s over the #48. "Man, you know it's so awesome to finally win here at Michigan and get Toyota in victory lane here at Michigan!," said Busch. "It feels good being so close to Detroit and everything," he said, referring to the headquarters of rival engine manufacturers Ford and Chevrolet.
"Today I could run the bottom and I could run the top, I just had to move around and figure things out," he said. "It's great to be here in victory lane in Michigan and we clinched our Chase berth ... It's awesome, that's what we wanted."
Johnson's second place means he once again missed out on a win at Michigan - the five-time Cup champion has never won here. But any disappointment he might have felt over that will have been tempered by his rising to second place in the Cup points
, ten points back from Busch at the top but 29pts clear of Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards behind him.
"Chad made a great call to get me to pit road before that caution came out," Johnson said, referring to his longtime crew chief Chad Knaus. "It gave us the shot at the win, but once I was up front in the clean air the balance of the car was a bit too loose ... and I knew [Kyle] was going to come at some point and he showed up."
Brad Keselowski finished in the top three for the third race in succession , despite struggling in the second part of the race with a car that was absurdly loose. "Wish I had something more for the #48 and #18 there at the end," he said, but admitted that he had nothing in reserve for them unless they made a mistake and took each other out. "I couldn't do anything on my own merit. Still a fun race, proud of the effort. The last few weeks are more than I could ever ask for."