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Hamlin's fourth thwarts Gordon's hopes

"It looks like a piston or something," Edwards told pit lane reporters. "It started making noise about 25-30 laps ago and it's just hard to put into words. That's just how our season has been going

This put the leaders back on pit road for fuel, but it was about eight laps too early for them to make it all the way to the finish from here even when the restart on lap 269 went straight back to yellow for Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman and Sam Hornish Jr. coming to grief on the backstretch.

Hornish had been in the middle of an uncomfortable three-way squeeze between Newman on the outside and Johnson on the inside: once the contact started it was almost inevitable that the rebounding ricochets would spell disaster for someone, and Newman was sent into the wall while Johnson's car was turned sideways across Newman. Both cars were badly damaged, while Hornish escaped surprisingly lightly.

"I think the #39 [Newman] was on the outside, the #22 was next to me; we just all converged at one spot," said Johnson. "There is not a real good angle, all I know is I was riding down the road and left plenty of room on the outside of me and I got turned head on into the wall.”

"I think the #48 just ran out of room and it was unfortunate," was Newman's take. "I didn't see much, all I know we ran out of room on the restart there ... It wasn't my fault, but it was just racing."

That allowed those cars feeling vulnerable on fuel mileage to pit again before the restart, when the race finally rediscovered found its green flag groove again for the next 41 laps. Hamlin started in front alongside Truex, and it was the Michael Waltrip Racing driver who had the faster car and immediately sailed past into the lead. Behind them, Brad Keselowski got under Kyle Busch for third place but was himself soon passed by a charging Jeff Gordon, while Kevin Harvick's form was fading and he fell back from the leaders after being so dominant earlier in the race

"We had a really good car in the first half," he said. "It wasn't bad in the second half but about 150 laps to go we just got too tight getting into the corner and never could get that out of it."

Harvick gave a lot of the credit to Gil Martin, who had returned as the #29's crew chief despite having been unceremoniously moved aside during the 2011 season when Harvick had grown unhappy with the team's performance going into last year's Chase: "I just have to thank Gil for coming back with everything we put him through," said Harvick. "It wasn't a great situation. It takes a big man to do what he did, and things are going in the right direction.”

As the race entered the final two dozen laps, Truex was still out in front by three seconds over Jeff Gordon who had taken over second spot from Hamlin, but to Truex's exasperation he was getting warned by his team to look after his fuel. He was told he had enough to get to the chequered flag, but any longer - a green-white-chequered (GWC) extension for example - could be disastrous. Hamlin was in the same boat, but Gordon on the other hand had been one of those cars to come back onto pit road for fuel and tyres under the Johnson/Newman caution. He had no such concerns and was able to turn the wick up full.

Despite that advantage, Gordon seemed to be making no inroads into Truex's lead. As the end of the race approached it seemed that Truex was finally on his way back to victory lane for the first time since 2007. And then Jamie McMurray happened.




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