Was it an accident and a fluke, or was is a spectacularly effective piece of brilliant, unorthodox strategy that won it for Kasey Kahne in the last restart of the afternoon at Pocono Raceway on Sunday?

When the green flag came out for the final time, Kahne was on the front row alongside his Hendrick Motorsport team mate Jeff Gordon but he appeared to struggle to get up to speed while in the meantime Gordon surged ahead into what looked to be an unassailable lead with two laps remaining in the GoBowling.com 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. The media were already crafting their post-race pieces detailing how Kahne had blown it at the last minute after having led for 64 of the 158 laps up to that point of the race.

And then a funny thing happened: Kahne got his second wind, with a helpful boost from Kurt Busch who had restarted from fourth place immediately behind him and who was himself strongly motivated to get going after Gordon as soon as possible. That ended up giving Kahne a huge run down the outside into turn one and the momentum just kept on giving: by the time the leaders hit the second of Pocono's three corners, Gordon hadn't just been caught but was already in Kahne's rear view mirrors. By the time the chequered flag came out, Kahne had pulled ahead by almost 1.4 seconds to claim the win.

"Jeff was getting great restarts and he was fast once we got going," said Kahne afterwards. "I about gave it away when Jeff got by me, and then I spun the tyres a little bit and he got a great jump ... That final one he beat me to turn one. Kurt Busch gave me a great push all the way down the front stretch which helped a ton. Once we got there I just had one shot. It was either make it stick on the outside or go home in second."

"It's funny how our emotions to go up and down in this sport. Before the race, if you told me that I'd finish second, I'd say that was a great birthday gift," said Gordon, who turned 42 on Sunday. "But when you're leading, and take the lead from Kasey the way we did you know, on that restart, I thought we had him. He was better than us but I thought getting out in front I could hold him off.

"I got a perfect restart that last one and probably jumped him a little bit and I moved up front of him and it looked like I needed to block the inside," he continued. "I tried to protect the inside and he got out the outside and flat outdrove me through 1.

"I'm disappointed that we didn't get this win," he admitted. "This team has worked so hard to put ourselves in position ... I'm a little disappointed, but also excited. It was a good point's day for us and we needed that," he added, referring to the points situation in the Cup championship with just five races remaining in the regular season before the Chase cut-off and both Hendrick drivers having to work hard to keep themselves in the all-important top ten.

No such problems for Jimmie Johnson, whose lead in the points is now such that he can afford to take a race off should he need to in order to attend the birth of his second child with wife Chandra due soon. Even hitting the wall on lap 76 this weekend at Pocono after a tyre failed on the #48 did little to hinder his serene progress to that end: the crew got to work, applied industrial quantities of duct tape, accepted a penalty for having too many people working on the car, and still managed to put Johnson back out in a position where he could drive his way back to 13th place by the end, one spot ahead of his closest rival in the points, Michael Waltrip Racing's Clint Bowyer.

"I really felt like we had a shot to win, unfortunately blew a tyre off of turn 1 and ended those hopes there," he said. "I hit the wall so hard that it knocked a spark plug wire off the spark plug. They were able to find the right plug and get everything hooked back up and the engine took off. Off we went and salvaged a very nice finish."

Others weren't so lucky during the course of the three hour race, in which the Pocono tri-oval lived up to its nickname as the 'Tricky' Triangle and yielded more accidents than several of the more recent races have done. It started early, with Juan Pablo Montoya drifting up into Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on lap 1 which sparked an incident that also caught up Matt Kenseth.

"The #42 got us three or four wide and I moved up to give him a whole lane and typical, I think he just ran in there and drove right into us," said Stenhouse, who also crashed in the sole practice session the Cup drivers had this weekend after Saturday's track time was washed out by rain. "I was just thinking to myself on that pace lap that before we went green, I was kind of hoping everyone would stay in line since we haven't had much track time this weekend. It didn't play out like that though." The Roush Fenway team was eventually able to patch the extensive damage on the #17 and get it back out, but Stenhouse was far off the lead lap by the time he rejoined.

The next casualty was Denny Hamlin on lap 15, putting the ill-handling #11 into the wall in turn 3 to become the first retirement of the race, surely ending any hopes he has of making the Chase after his early season lay-off for a back injury.

"Our car was a handful," he admitted. "I was getting run over from behind and just holding up traffic. I just let off in the corner and it just breaks loose. It's what we've been fighting really the last seven weeks or so,just cannot get into the corner in our cars. A handful; I mean, a handful. I know how to drive this race track and we have just not hit on what it takes here these last couple months to get our speed where it needed to be and we were struggling again today."

David Gilliand was next out, hitting the wall on lap 53 which sent fire crews scampering to the scene to address the small matter of the flames coming out of the #38.

"I am not entirely sure," said Gilliland when asked what had happened. "It felt like a tyre went down. The left front was down after the wreck that I saw but I don't know exactly what happened. It felt like we blew a tyre and hit the wall probably at one of the worst places you would want to hit it. It was a hard hit but I am alright. We will have to go back and try to get 'em next week."

After Johnson's tyre blow-out, the next caution was for a similar tyre-induced car-meets-wall incident on lap 95, this time with David Stremme coming to grief in turn 1. Aric Almirola also went for a spin on lap 103, but in both cases the cars weren't badly damaged and both men continued to race.

That wasn't the case two laps into the next restart, which saw Danica Patrick and Travis Kvapil spark a multi-car accident that also caught up Jeff Burton and Paul Menard. The incident appeared to have been caused by the #10 getting loose and ending up hitting Kvapil, but Patrick explained that she hadn't done anything differently on that occasion than she had on previous laps.

"I didn't feel like I went in any more hero-like that time," she insisted. "These cars rely on sideforce so when some is on the outside of you, it always makes you a little looser.

"We were tight and we had freed it up and it was better, but when they are outside of you, you just get loose," she added. "I chased it up and it spun around, and unfortunately, it ended the day for us, and it was a good day."

"We're a middle-of-the-pack car running in the top 20 and get wrecked again. It is just really frustrating," said Kvapil, who was not at all happy with Patrick after the pair had also clashed at New Hampshire. "I'm done just getting run over and wrecked and racing her clean.

"It's pretty frustrating. She's one of the best cars out there," he continued. "When you're in vulnerable situations, you have to guard yourself and take care of your stuff. She is a rookie and you've got to learn that, but that's a couple of weeks in a row for me."

Burton meanwhile was left beating the hood of his car in frustration at the turn of events. "They just got together in front of me," he said. "I didn't see them wrecking. By the time I got there, they were wrecking." Burton was out on the spot and the Go.Daddy.com #10 was itself crushed, while the damage to Menard's car put him well off the lead lap. Kvapil was able to continue to the finish.

After the clean-up the race resumed and looked like it might be going full-distance. The early lead of the race had been dominated by pole sitter Jimmie Johnson, and once he faded from contention for the win the only other driver to have notched up double digits in the lead in a single sitting for the rest of the afternoon had been Kahne. However, after a final round of green flag pit stops the next caution on lap 149 for debris allowed Gordon to jump ahead at the restart, which lasted only two laps before an accident for Matt Kenseth.

That sent the race into green-white-chequered conditions, which saw Jeff Gordon jump away at the restart only to get promptly caught and passed for the win by Kahne. Behind them, Kurt Busch was rewarded for his part in Kahne's victory with third place ahead of Stewart-Haas Racing's Ryan Newman, the Brickyard 400 winner having seldom been outside the top ten all afternoon.

Newman finished just in front of fourth Hendrick driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. in fifth place after the #88 overcome persistent vibration problems throughout the afternoon to score a strong finish ahead of Penske's Brad Keselowski who kept hold of sixth spot from team mate Joey Logano. Kyle Busch held on to eighth spot having started on the front row alongside Johnson but never having had the car to lead even a single lap all afternoon. Despite rounding out the top ten, Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle fell back in the championship battle and are now 11th and tenth in the standings - on either side of 'the bubble' in terms of making the Chase and both under threat from the likes of Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman rapidly gaining ground behind them.

With the field this closely packed, one bad race could yet be a game changer for any of the drivers in terms of their 2013 Cup championship hopes. The only man who seems currently immune to the whims of fate is Jimmie Johnson, with five-time's pursuit of a six-pack of titles surviving even a tyre blow-out and hard hit into the wall this week with a grace and assurance that will surely greatly trouble his rivals as the season starts to get down to the business end of things.

Full race results and Sprint Cup Championship standings are available.