Jimmie Johnson popped to the top in front of Almirola at the restart on lap 77 which was a short-lived spell under green before Jeff Burton got nudged into the wall at turn 4 courtesy of Tony Stewart to bring out the yellows again. The field got a better run at the next attempt, with Johnson consolidating his grip on the lead up to the next round of pit stops.
Johnson, Kurt Busch and Martin Truex Jr. had already cycled through the pits, leaving Almirola back at the front, when there was a new yellow - and it was for the leader. Almirola's tyre had blown on him and the #43 ended up slapping the wall. He was able to continue, but the timing of the caution was bad news for Johnson and the others who had already stopped. Although he got the wave-around when the leaders came in to pit under yellow, he was still stuck at the back of the lead lap in 21st place.
Johnson was determined to had back to the front with all possible speed: too determined, it turned out, and he ended up losing the back of the #48 and hitting the wall with the rear of the car on lap 136 shortly after the restart. Everyone gasped: this could have huge ramifications on the Chase battle should the car be unable to continue. Was this the end of Johnson's bid for a sixth title in 2012?
"I crashed the car," admitted Johnson. "I spun out trying to get inside the #56 [Martin Truex, Jr.] He bobbled a little in front of me and I thought that was an opportunity to jump in the gas real hard. When I did that, my car took off and I couldn't catch it."
Johnson limped the car back to pit lane, and crew chief Chad Knaus orchestrated a coordinated beating of sheet metal rarely seen outside of a Stomp! performance. The #48 was ushered back out and still hadn't lost a lap, and the crew watched and waited to see if they'd done enough, or whether they'd missed more serious damage. It looked promising; it looked very
promising. And when Brad Keselowski got a chance to see the the rear of the #48 up close from his own race seat, he was on his own team radio asking them to confirm that it had really been Johnson who'd wrecked, because he couldn't see much wrong with the #48. It was a great escape worthy of Houdini.
"It is pretty tore up," said Johnson later after the race when he'd had a chance to look over the damage himself at first hand. "I'm definitely proud of this team, and the fact that we never give up. We continue to fight to try to get every point that we can."
Johnson added that Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s dramatic recovery from a mid-race wreck to win the previous day's race had inspired the team. "I think that yesterday's Nationwide race showed that this thing isn't over until the chequered flag falls on any given Sunday," he said. "All that said, I'm very proud."
Bobby Labonte spun out at the next restart, and then on lap 146 Matt Kenseth led Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard and Greg Biffle to the green. Further down the field, however, there was trouble brewing: Danica Patrick was getting increasingly upset with Landon Cassill's attitude toward her on the track and on lap 155 she'd had enough and decided to spin him out at turn 2. Unfortunately, her move also meant that she ended up in the wall as well: her crew chief Greg Zipadelli sounded distinctly unimpressed over the team radio with his star charge's conduct.
"My situation with the #83 is really a product of frustration," Patrick admitted afterwards. "He got into me on the front straight and said I was just in the way. That's really no good reason to hit me.
"If it's one time, I can imagine it's frustration, but it's been quite a few times with him," she continued. "At some point I have to stand up for myself so this doesn't happen with other people. I chose today. The bummer about it is that my car is out, and he's still out there going, so I've got to work on how to do that."