The sequence of pit stops had left Brad Keselowski out in front - to the astonishment of Johnson and his pit crew who couldn't quite figure out how the Penske driver had managed to pull that one off. No matter, Johnson and his remaining cohorts - Kahne and Earnhardt - were looking in strong form to take the win and possibly lock up all the podium positions as well, providing of course that there were no late recurrences of the Chevy engine issues.
Kahne was still nursing the damage from his early spin and fell back at the restart, while Greg Biffle surged up two spots from fifth place to be in the ideal position to watch Johnson mount his assault on Keselowski for the lead, which finally paid off on lap 190 in turn 2. Biffle lined up the #2 and followed Johnson through next time around, but now Johnson already had a one second lead and looked unbeatable with just half a dozen laps remaining.
"I was closing in on him and I don't know if I would have got him in those eight laps or not," admitted Biffle. "I found some speed in the top line down there in three and four and was coming on him ... It would have been a hell of a run to the end."
Then Johnson was abruptly off the pace: and the problem was immediately apparent, as smoke and fluid poured out of the #48's exhaust. The engine had just died on him - the third Chevy of the race, and Johnson's second of the weekend. It was a cruel way to lose a seemingly certain race victory, and it clearly hurt the five-time champion: usually the most media-friendly of all the drivers in the paddock, this time Johnson departed the speedway without a single word to anyone. There was even a long pause before he finally posted on Twitter: "Thanks everyone, today was a tough one. We blew up & I'm disappointed, not much else to say. Now it's on to Bristol."
After that drama, the green-white-chequered restart proved anti-climactic: Biffle powered away and Keselowski had nothing left to offer in resistance. The chequered flag dropped with Biffle almost half a second ahead of Keselowski, who just managed to hold on to second ahead of Kahne and Earnhardt.
"That was a wild race," said Biffle in victory lane. "The race today, my car was super good at the beginning of the race when the track was kind of green and we got going there but once I got on restarts and in traffic I wasn't that good. I just kept working on it and trying different things, dragging the brakes in the corner to get it go a little better.
"We were so good out front," he continued. "Once I passed a car I could run the next guy down by a half-a-second a lap. I knew once we got out front we would be tough to beat and that was the case."
Keselowski had no complaints about finishing second. "He just did a great job," he said of Biffle. "He had a fast car and passed me legit and I couldn't keep up with him. Between the #48, the #16 and the #55, those three cars were just I think the class of the field today."
"There's nothing I want more I want than to win here at Michigan and you can feel a little bit of foreshadowing going on with the Chase coming on and those cars running right by each other," Keselowski added. "It's an honour to get to race with guys like Jimmie and Greg and be door-to-door. If my team can continue to execute like they did today I think we've got a real good shot at this championship so I'm very, very proud."
Biffle's win puts him on top of the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship points standings, 20pts ahead of team mate Matt Kenseth with just three races remaining now to the Chase cut-off that takes place after Richmond on September 8. No one is yet mathematically a lock for a Chase position, but it would take a seismic event for Biffle and Kenseth to miss out now.