The clean-up took almost ten laps, and some of the more canny drivers like Kenseth, Denny Hamlin and Michael Waltrip came onto pit road for a second stop toward the end of the lengthy caution for a quick fuel top-up just to make sure of getting all the way to the end of the race. Kenseth was in any case at the back of the field, having been penalised (along with Marcos Ambrose) for coming onto pit road too soon after the caution came out - he'd run out of gas and been left with no option but to come in and take the hit regardless.
That meant that at the restart on lap 150 with 38 laps to go the leaders were Paul Menard, Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle and David Ragan - although Menard was without a drafting partner and quickly dropped back, while Keselowski was quickly found by his Penske team mate AJ Allmendinger and pushed to the lead for the first time of the day.
Clint Bowyer then pushed Denny Hamlin past the Dodge duo for the lead on lap 159 as the intensity of the racing was turned up full; it hadn't taken Matt Kenseth to get back to the sharp end either, this time in league with Casey Mears whom he pushed to the front on lap 162. But Mears' purpose was done, and soon after the leading quartet of Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and AJ Allmendinger went single-file to take a breather before the final campaign, closely followed by Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard, Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch and Casey Mears who were all ready to pounce if the opportunity presented itself
Mears was trying to get a push from Marcos Ambrose, but a cut tyre proved unlucky for the #13 and it ended in tears when he went spinning in turns 1 and 2. Trevor Bayne joined in the spin in reaction to bring out the third caution of the afternoon on lap 175, just 13 laps before the scheduled end.
"We kind of just tried to stay out of trouble all day and then after that last pit stop we were well inside the top 15 there, so we decided to go ahead and see what we had," said Mears. "We were able to go to the front and lead some laps. I can't remember what lap it was, it was probably with 15 or 18 to go and we were running in the middle. The #17 had a run but there wasn't enough room and I got tagged in the left rear and eventually six or eight laps after that we got a left rear flat and spun out and got in the wall. That kind of ended our day."
With nine laps to go at the restart, a few drivers including Hamlin, Waltrip, Bowyer and Jamie McMurray tried a throw of the dice with a quick stop for fresh tyres before the track went green again. After all, this being Talladega the next Big One is never far away and the old adage about cautions breeding cautions never more apposite.
Sure enough, the next green lasted only two laps: Kurt Busch had the front of the #51 buried deep into the back of Kenseth's #17 to get the best possible breakaway from Keselowski in third, but it went wrong when the #2 tapped the back of the Phoenix Racing car and sent Busch for a sideways spin into the inside wall across the start/finish line and into turn 1. The earlier Talladega Nights banter waned rapidly as Busch compounded the situation by trying to sneak into pit road from the wrong end rather than have to go all the way around, and promptly got slapped with a penalty for his misdemeanour which put him a lap down.
The next restart on lap 184 lasted even less time before the yellows were flying again. Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Paul Menard and AJ Allmendinger were the leaders, with Hamlin diving down to take the middle line to get past, only to find Allmendinger had spotted the gap as well and was moving to stop anyone else from taking advantage of it. There was contact, and with it coming at the front of a closed-up pack there were repercussions for an awful lot of the cars around them.
Paul Menard, Greg Biffle, Michael Waltrip, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, Robert Richardson Jr., Tony Stewart, Joey Logano and others were swept into the mishap along with Hamlin and Allmendinger: Hamlin's left rear had been cut in the wreck and promptly disintegrated, scattering rubber all over the place that extended the caution still further for the debris to be cleaned up.
Matt Kenseth was shaping up to be the leader for the green-white-chequered finish that now fast approached, but despite avoiding the latest multi-car incident it was clear that the #17 was feeling the strain: a B-post on the car had split lengthwise and the right front fender had also shaken loose. He couldn't keep a good hook-up going with Greg Biffle at the restart, and the man who had led the most laps of the race (73 out of what turned out to be 194 laps in the end) just didn't have the final pace he needed to go with Brad Keselowski when the Penske driver got boosted clear away in front by Kyle Busch.