Brad Keselowski and Kasey Kahne took over the lead on lap 34 after a round of pit stops, and there was a double disaster for Kurt Busch: not only was he penalised for speeding on pit lane, he was then penalised a second time for speeding while serving his drive-thru penalty which this meant a stop-and-go sanction that dropped him to 38th place and off the lead lap. He'd spend the next dozen laps battling hard just to get himself into the lucky dog position for the next caution to get the lap back. In the end he didn't need the free pass, and instead did it the old fashioned way by catching up to the race leader and getting past him on lap 47.
Keselowski's turn at the front lasted just seven laps before he locked up and ran wide, allowing the flying #56 of Martin Truex Jr. to get past him and take the lead for the first time on lap 40. He was soon joined at the front by his MWR team mate Brian Vickers - and impressive achievement from Vickers who had been required to start from the back of the field after missing the Sonoma practice and qualifying sessions by virtue of competing over at Road America in the Nationwide Series race the previous day.
Truex was clearly trying to eke out his fuel so that his next pit stop would be his last, but that made him vulnerable to others who had already made their stops should be a safety car before he came in. Radio communications suggested that his target was lap 65 but instead he was in three laps earlier than that, and it was just as well he did because just seconds later Danica Patrick - making history as the first female driver ever to compete in a Cup race at Sonoma - suffered a puncture and spun off into the tyres at turn 10.
Jamie McMurray, Carl Edwards and Jeff Burton all stayed out under the caution, with the just-pitted Truex taking the restart in second place but quickly passing McMurray to resume the lead once more. There was a quick return to caution after Tony Stewart hit Denny Hamlin and sent the #11 spinning off and succeeded in literally setting the earth on fire at turn 4A. Along with Kyle Busch's problems, it was proving to be a very strained day for the whole Joe Gibbs Racing operation.
The latest caution had now brought the field within range of making it home on a tank of gas, so Truex pitted on lap 69 with that intention along with several others including JGR's Matt Kenseth and Montoya, and then stalled the #56 to drop him back to fourth behind new leader Jeff Gordon, Joey Logano and Dale Earnhardt Jr. However, those three still needed to make their final stops which they finally did on lap 83 leaving Truex once more in the lead ahead of Kenseth and Montoya with Roush Fenway Racing duo Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards now ahead of Ambrose whose handling had gone off leaving him circulating in sixth place.
Truex once again proved he had the car to lead the race, the clean air allowing him to pull out an increasingly commanding lead over the final 25-lap green flag stint. Even that very early final pit stop didn't seem to give him any cause for concern in the fuel conservation stakes as he pulled out an eight second lead over the rest of the field; unlike Kenseth, who despite running an identical Totoya engine in the #20 was struggling to make his final tank of gas and started severely haemorrhaging positions on his way out of the top ten in the closing stage of the race.
As the white flag came out it seemed that Truex's win was assured, with Montoya also comfortably ahead of Jeff Gordon who had put in an impressive final stint after being one of the late-stoppers and opting for a full four-tyre strategy call. That was in contrast to his Hendrick Motorsport team mate Jimmie Johnson who had come in at the same time but tried hedging his bets with a two-tyre-only approach that never made a great deal of sense on a road course but which was still good enough to see him through to ninth place at the finish.
Truex completed the final lap and was elated to claim the chequered flag. And coming in second place was ... Not Montoya, but Gordon. The #42 had run out of gas on the final lap and came to a halt out on the track, meaning that the Colombian dropped from second place at the white flag to 34th place in the final classification, a real punch to the gut for the former F1 driver.
"It's just heartbreak," said Montoya. "It's heartbreak for me and everybody on the Target team.
"They do the fuel calculations based on the other runs; and the other runs, when you're stuck in traffic, you can't run that hard," he explained. "Then you get in clean air and they're asking me to run as hard as I can, and I'm doing that, you're going to use a little more fuel. It should have been a little smarter. With five to go you start saving a little bit, just in case. We've got tools to prevent things like that from happening," he sighed.
Gordon meanwhile was delighted to pick up second place, after initially fearing that they'd screed up with a too-early pit stop on lap 24 had likely wrecked their chances. "This is one of those crazy types of races where pit strategy goes all over the place and you never know what might happen," he said.