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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]
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS finishes in fifth place, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS finishes in 33rd place in the Daytona 500 Sunday, February 22, 2015 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. Gordon, who led for 87 laps,  was involved in a multi-car incident on the last lap. (Photo by HHP/Harold Hinson for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS races to a third place finish with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS who finishes in fifth place in the Daytona 500 Sunday, February 22, 2015 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by HHP/Alan Marler for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS pulls into his pit on his way to a second place finish in the Daytona 500 Sunday, February 22, 2015 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by HHP/Harold Hinson for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, and Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Percision Chevrolet, lead the field during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 57th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 22, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, and Clint Bowyer, driver of the #15 5-hour ENERGY Toyota, race three-wide during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 57th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 22, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Smoke pours from the #2 Miller Lite Ford, driven by Brad Keselowski, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 57th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 22, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, and Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, lead the field to the green flag for the running of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 57th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 22, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Robert Reiners/Getty Images)
Chris Buescher, driver of the #60 Kellogg/Cheez-It Ford, races Brad Keselowski, driver of the #22 Discount Tire Ford, Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 ENEOS Chevrolet, and Ryan Reed, driver of the #16 Lilly/American Diabetes Association Ford, during the NASCAR XFINITY Series Alert Today Florida 300 at Daytona International Speedway on February 21, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Tyler Reddick, driver of the #19 DrawTite Ford, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona International Speedway on February 20, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, is interviewed in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 57th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 19, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Hendrick Motorsports team mates (left) Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet and (right) Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet celebrate in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Budweiser Duel 1 at Daytona International Speedway on February 19, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Budweiser Duel 2 at Daytona International Speedway on February 19, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Budweiser Duel 2 at Daytona International Speedway on February 19, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Budweiser Duel 1 at Daytona International Speedway on February 19, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, and Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 Dollar General Toyota, lead the field to the green flag for the running of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Budweiser Duel 1 at Daytona International Speedway on February 19, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS, captures the Daytona 500 pole for the second time in his career Sunday, February 15, 2015 after posting the fastest qualifying time for next Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race in Daytona Beach, Florida. Gordon, who has said this is his last full season of racing, has won the Daytona 500 three times. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS, qualifies second and will also start from the front row. (Photo by HHP/David Tulis for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS, captures the Daytona 500 pole for the second time in his career Sunday, February 15, 2015 after posting the fastest qualifying time for next Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race in Daytona Beach, Florida. Gordon, shown with his team and crew chief, Alan Gustafson, said this is his last full season of racing. Gordan has won the Daytona 500 three times. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS, qualifies second and will also start from the front row. (Photo by HHP/Harold Hinson for Chevy Racing)

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