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Johnson shows them the way at Kansas

But there was still drama to come. Chase contender Jeff Gordon's #24 had started to show alarming signs of its engine letting go as early as the caution on lap 240, but he kept it going almost to the very end. Then on lap 265 - two laps shy of the scheduled race distance - it finally let go in no uncertain fashion and Gordon was emphatically done for the day. The oil he dropped down on the track also meant a sixth and final caution, and with it being so close to the end it meant the race distance was now extended by five laps to accommodate a green-and-white-chequered finish.

"I started seeing smoke inside the car," explained Gordon. "Our day was pretty much over anyway and we were going to finish maybe 15th or something. Right there I started what smelled like burning oil and I saw the oil temp start to come up and I felt like it was just a matter of time before it blew up ... To last that long was pretty amazing."

That meant the end of Johnson's latest 2s lead and a restart for Johnson alongside Kasey Kahne, but it proved no problem for the five-time champion and he aced the restart and cruised away, Kahne spinning his tyres before slotting into second place ahead of Keselowski and Kenseth. Kahne was closing back up on Johnson in the final lap, but ultimately couldn't get close enough to mount a real challenge in time.

"On that restart, Brad kind of gave me a nice push, but I couldn't really get to [Johnson]," said Kahne. "I just really didn't have a shot at them there."

Remarkably, fifth place at the line was taken by Carl Edwards who had really done an amazing job to recover once he got back on the lead lap, and in finishing one place ahead of Kevin Harvick he also inherits the outright lead in the Chase championship standings.

"That was very, very bad at the beginning of that race. I cannot thank my guys enough for sticking with it and working hard all day. I cannot believe we finished fifth. It feels like a win," said a hugely relieved Edwards. "That's the most we have done with a car that wasn't capable of winning - ever. I'm really proud of my guys. We made good adjustments, and I just cannot believe it. From the way the day started, to finish like that is spectacular."

But it was really all about Jimmie Johnson: written off as past his prime just a couple of weeks ago, with this one bound he was free of the doubters and into third place in the Chase just 4pts behind Edwards. It was Johnson's second win of the year and his 55th Cup win in 357 starts (putting him equal in the record books with Rusty Wallace) as well as being his 20th win in a Chase race - the most of all drivers, and making him the only driver to have won a Chase race in each season since the format's inception in 2004 - after leading a dominant 197 laps of the 272 lap race.

Suddenly five-time was looking good for the six-pack after all: "You just don't know," he insisted. "Sure, this is a huge, huge step in the right direction, but in six races a lot can happen. So I don't want to get overly excited. We've got to go out there and race for this thing."

Keselowski's third place finish and Kenseth's fourth gave them big fillips in the points as well and they are in fourth and fifth positions respectively, with Kurt Busch (who dropped to 13th by the end of the race on what proved to be an ultimately misguided alternate pit stop strategy) and Tony Stewart (who dropped to 15th after sliding through his pit box in the final stop) losing Chase spots. Kyle Busch is in eighth place in the Chase, having run consistently in the top ten for much of Kansas until the very end, when a decision to try two new tyres in a late stop saw him drop to 11th. The #18's Chase story has been rather like that - so close, but just failing to catch light when it needed to and ending up close-but-no-cigar.

Meanwhile, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin are now over 40pts behind the points leader and effectively their Chase challenge is over. As is Jeff Gordon's, whose last-minute engine failure at Kansas resulted in a painful 34th place finish which means that his dreams, too, are now so much moonshine in 2011.

by Andrew Lewin



Related Pictures

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Jimmie Johnson leads Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400 on Sunday at Kansas Speedway. [Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR]
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, finishes in ninth place racing with Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Farmer`s Insurance Chevrolet SS who finishes in eleventh place Sunday, March 29, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet SS, finishes in eighth place Sunday, March 29, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Paul Menard, driver of the #27 Pittsburgh Paints/Menards Chevrolet, Aric Almirola, driver of the #43 STP Ford, Greg Biffle, driver of the #16 Ortho Ford, Trevor Bayne, driver of the #6 AdvoCare Ford, and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, are involved in an on-track incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 29, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the #17 Fastenal Ford, is involved in an on-track incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 29, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS, qualifies for fifth position Friday, March 27, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. Johnson is seventh in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings.(Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, qualifies for fourth position Friday, March 27, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. Gordon is 22nd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
A view of a decal placed on the #14 Code 3 Associates / Mobil 1 Chevrolet, driven by Tony Stewart (not pictured), during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 27, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Wurth Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 22, 2015 in Fontana, California.  (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Wurth Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 22, 2015 in Fontana, California.  (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Wurth Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 22, 2015 in Fontana, California.  (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Wurth Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane with girlfriend Paige White after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 22, 2015 in Fontana, California. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Wurth Ford, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 22, 2015 in Fontana, California. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John`s/Budweiser Chevrolet, races during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 22, 2015 in Fontana, California. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Paul Menard, driver of the #27 FVP/Menards Chevrolet SS finishes in fourth place and Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS finishes in fourteenth place Sunday, March 22, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS finishes in third place and Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John`s/Budweiser Chevrolet SS finishes in second place Sunday, March 22, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 21, 2015 in Fontana, California. (Photo Credit: Jeff Gross/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John`s/Budweiser Chevrolet SS qualifies for 2nd position Friday, March 20, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Harvick leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. Joining him on the front row will be Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS who won the Pole position. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)

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