For his part, Keselowski was quick to assert that his reticence to press harder for the win today wasn't an admission of having gone too far with Busch in the past. "I was gonna have to wreck him to really get it and I didn't want to do that," Keselowski said. "I thought I could cross him over here on the last corner and the car just slid the back end a little too much and I just couldn't quite pull off the move.
"There's racing and wrecking, those are two different things. Everybody defines them a little differently and I guess that's the code you live your life by," he explained. "Me, I define last year as racing and some people would define that as wrecking. If I was gonna take out Kyle today it would have been wrecking in my mind and there's a distinct difference."
Adding to Busch's high spirits in victory lane will have been the sight of so many other Chase rivals hitting problems, all of which does wonders to help secure the #18's position in the championship play-offs. A first win of 2013 win would have been manna from heaven for reigning champion Brad Keselowski but he had to be content with second place instead - still a healthy fillip in the points.
"Points are great when you're in the Chase," Keselowski responded to that suggestion. "Before that, to me, it's about wins. Even if you don't end up in the top 20 I'd rather be a wild card with four or five wins than be a guy in the Chase with zero wins.
"I guess that's the only way I can explain that," he continued. "I wasn't racing or running today thinking, 'Boy, I need a great points day.' Even though I was definitely cognisant of the fact that the #5 and the #24 and obviously the troubles with Tony, but I didn't enter this race thinking, 'Let's run second or third. That will be great. That would be a lot better than taking a risk of winning.' Hell no, I wasn't thinking that. I want to win the race and that's where my heart is at."
Martin Truex Jr. held on to third ahead of Carl Edwards, and Juan Pablo Montoya managed to work his way up to fifth place ahead of Clint Bowyer by the finish after recovering from that caution-interrupted final round of pit stops. Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and AJ Allmendinger founded out the top ten, while Harvick ended up in 13th place behind Mears and just ahead of Newman. Harvick was still fuming with the stand-in driver in the #14 Stewart-Haas car after several in-race clashes, however, with Max Papis ultimately coming home in 15th place at the end of what had been the first Sprint Cup race without Tony Stewart in the field since 1998.
"I drove the wheels off the car every lap. Every restart I was in the middle, two-wide, three-wide. These guys are all really good. There was not a second of driving around at 90 percent, it was all the time 100 percent," said Papis. "Super-proud of keeping the seat of Smoke as warm as I could,” he continued. "We never gave up, and that is the spirit Tony wanted us to have. We came from almost last and drove up through the middle of the field. We fought really hard, and I drove the best I could.
“It was a pleasure to be a part of this organization, and everything felt really good," he added. "Tony, you built a great team, everyone missed you, and you don't know how much love there is around for you. Thank you for the opportunity."
Johnson's top ten finish means that his lead in the championship is still unassailed and now stands at 75 points over Bowyer - he could actually take the next four races off and still make the Chase albeit possibly via a most-wins wildcard. Only one other driver - Carl Edwards - is less than thee digits away from Johnson, while Harvick and Busch are looking increasingly secure for a Chase berth, and Earnhardt and Kenseth should also be okay unless there are some seismic changes in the final races of the regular season.
After that, just 40 points covers eighth down to 17th position in the points standings, which explains why their Watkins Glen disasters drop Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon down a painful four positions apiece, and why their misfortunes are precisely mirrored by the four-place boosts for Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. But luck can change with the speed of the wind, so anything could happen - and it's still all to play for - as the Sprint Cup Series heads off to the remaining crucial regular season races at Michigan, Bristol, Atlanta and of course Richmond on September 7.