Saturday evening's Samsung Mobile 500 under the floodlights of Texas Motor Speedway looked set to be a tale of three drivers. There was polesitter Martin Truex Jr. who led from the start, and then there was championship leader Greg Biffle who blasted past him for the lead on lap 31: between them they led all but 17 of the first 100 laps of this weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup race.
But just when they were starting to feel feeling cosy and in control of proceedings, along came five-time former champion Jimmie Johnson. He didn't hit the front until lap 113, but he would then go on to lead the most laps of the race by heading up 156 of the 334-lap race distance: as the race headed into its final stages, it seemed that no one had any answer for the #48 this week.
Biffle had faded a little after his early strong run, and from lap 113 to lap 304 he led only one single solitary lap during a green flag pit stop sequence. Most of the rest of the time he seemed to spend staring at Johnson's rear spoiler, wondering what on earth he had to do to break his 49-race long drought of wins that stretched back to October 2010 when he has last visited victory lane in Kansas during the Chase.
"I was foaming at the mouth," admitted Biffle of his need to get back to winning ways. "When you haven't won in a long time, [it] didn't matter who it was, whether it was a five-time champion or what. I was driving my heart out. I was doing all I could do."
And then on lap 303 Biffle made his move, closing up on the #48 and diving underneath Johnson in turn 3 for the lead next time around, powersliding up again to head off the counterattack. It paid off, but Johnson wasn't going to be shaken and he hung on to the rear of the #16, the gap never more than a second as the duo pulled away from third-placed Mark Martin.
But just when you thought Johnson was merely taking a breather and gathering himself for the final assault, the #48 slid up too high and brushed the wall in turns 3 and 4 with 15 to go on the 1.5-mile banked oval speedway. The damage was light and Johnson was able to continue, but it took the shine off the car and prevented him from mounting his strike on the leader.
Biffle sailed away, and grew suddenly worried when he realised that Johnson was no where in sight. "It kind of spooks you when you can't see him," he admitted. "It seemed like when I got to him that it was almost too easy. I don't know if he used up his tyres or what. He had a little trouble in traffic and that is why I could close in on him.
"I just dug deep," he continued. "I knew I had to do it and I kept trying and trying and trying. I knew the team would forgive me if I wrecked it trying to beat him so I just gave it all I had."
And all he had proved easily more than enough, leaving Johnson having to settle for second place safely far ahead of Mark Martin in third. "I'm definitely disappointed," Johnson admitted. "We had a great race car and there's a lot to be proud of here today. Our pit stops were amazing. We had a very, very fast race car."