"Those last two runs, I ran half-throttle," signed Johnson. "I probably ran 80 laps saving fuel here at the end, just to put us in this position ... We ran around in circles and were done.
"It's a tough way to race, for sure, but I'm happy that as a group and a team, we've figured out how to get better at fuel-mileage racing," he added. "I'm very pleased with the progress we've made, that I've made in the car. My driving style just eats up fuel. Making good changes, and playing the game the way it needs to be played right now, and closed in a little bit on that #2 car."
With Keselowski never recovering from that 11th place he inherited after the final round of splash-and-dash stops, the championship standings have tightened up at the top: Keselowski is still out on front but with his lead trimmed to just 7pts over Johnson and Hamlin just 8pts further back. Bowyer's race win puts him 28pts off the Chase lead and Kasey Kahne (who held on to a solid eighth place at the chequered flag) is 35pts off the top.
Greg Biffle is up three positions to sixth but that's still 43pts away from Keselowski with just five races remaining in the 2012 Chase. Dropping places as a result of their Charlotte outings were Tony Stewart (who drove commendably in a heavily damaged #14 to finish in 13th place) and Jeff Gordon (ending his recent surge of comeback performances with a poor 18th this weekend.)
Other notable drives this weekend include Kurt Busch finishing in 21st place in his debut with Furniture Row Racing, and AJ Allmendinger who was able to claim 24th as a last-minute stand-in in Busch's old race seat at Phoenix Racing.
"Finishing 21st might not appear that we made progress, but the fact of the matter is that we did in our first three days together at the track," explained Busch. "But we're also realistic, knowing that there will be more kinks along the way to work out in the final five races of the season.
"It initially appeared that we had the #78 hooked up and all systems looked solid," Busch added. "But then we ran into a binding problem with the car and it started to slow down ... We also had handling problems later in the race and never could get in the lucky dog position and back on the lead lap.
"We have some things to work on, and having two days of testing in Kansas next week will give us additional time to sort things out," he finished. "I was pumped before our first practice session on Thursday and I am even more pumped as we move forward."
Allmendinger had been set for an even better finish that 24th until a tyre got away from the pit crew during the final stop, earning the #51 a drive-thru penalty.
"I questioned whether or not I could even do
500 miles at Charlotte, but then we were competitive up until we lost that tyre - we were looking at a top 17 finish, beating some really good race teams," said Allmendinger. "I just want to thank [Phoenix Racing owner] James Finch for this opportunity and we'll see if we're racing at Kansas next weekend."