"Something broke, I don't really know," said Kahne after he emerged from being checked over at the in-field care centre. "I would say it was a tyre that went down, but I don't know for sure. I just was going into the corner and then it 'boom' and turned right went straight into the wall. It was a hard hit."
Denny Hamlin's view was that it had been debris on the track that had caused Kahne's accident. Struggling all afternoon long in an uncharacteristically ill-handling #11 Joe Gibbs Car, Hamlin had run over some debris himself just before Kahne - who at the time had been about to lap him - had suffered his accident right behind him. Hamlin's day didn't improve from this point either, and he finished in 30th place a lap off the pace, his Chase chances surely all but gone as he drops to 26th place in the standings.
Earnhardt led the field to the green on lap 113 followed by Matt Kenseth, with Biffle now up to third place after the field ahead had been cleared of some of the Hendrick cars; Johnson had suffered a sluggish stop and dropped back to seventh during that extended caution for the clear-up for the #5 barbecue. Biffle soon passed Kenseth for second spot, but in turn he was quickly demoted back down again by Johnson coming back strong and on lap 128 the #48 was once again running in second place.
Next lap by, Johnson was in the lead - but not in the way that he or the team wanted. Earnhardt's engine had gone bang, and it was game over for the #88 at Michigan - the third DNF for the team from its four-car squad. If Johnson hadn't been nervous about his chances of making it to the finish already, he surely must have feared that the gods were against him after this latest portent.
"There was no warning at all even after I think we lost a cylinder," said Earnhardt of his demise. "The gauges all looked really good. Flipped all the switches I could flip and nothing was really making a difference. We just had something come apart in the motor.
"That is worse than if it happens when you're running in the back," he said when asked about being the second Hendrick car in succession to be hit by problems while in a dominant lead. "That car was just flying at the end there. I don't know if we had as good a car as Jimmie, but we had certainly made some gains on it, even in the last stop. So, I'm just real proud of my team. I hate to run into trouble. They'll figure it out and we'll get it sorted and we'll be able to come back here and expect to run strong again."
It looked like Johnson's bad luck might just possible have arrived when he dropped 19 spots during the ensuing pit stops under caution for oil spilt from the dying #88: the team had opted for a four-tyre stop when seemingly everyone else had just taken two, a strategic call by the opposition that had clearly surprised Johnson's normally unflappable crew chief Chad Knaus. All Knaus could do was apologise to his driver and assure him that they still had plenty of time to make it up and that it was all still to play for.
With the Hendrick stars fading from the firmament, it was time for others to shine: pole man Carl Edwards took the lead from Joey Logano at the restart, and over the course of the next dozen laps it was his team mate Greg Biffle having restarted from fourth who emerged as the main threat in the #99's rear view mirror, until finally with just under 50 laps to go it was the #16 to the front, rapidly pulling out a three second lead over Edwards.
Edwards had a distraction of his own that prevented him from giving maximum effort in his pursuit, however: some debris had plastered itself on his front air-intake grill and as a result the engine temperatures on the #99 were skyrocketing. Short of a pit stop the only way around it was to use the back of another car to disrupt the airflow to peel the debris off, but Biffle wasn't heeding calls to ease off the pace and back up into Edwards to allow him to do that - something which angered the #99 crew chief Jimmy Fennig.
"We just might have a header crack or a tailpipe crack ... We have to thank our teammate for that." fumed Fennig. "He ain't our teammate."