"We were running two-wide so it was comfortable," said Montoya afterwards. "We started running three-wide and the spotter told me 'get out' and I backed up going into the tri-oval. The next thing I know, I just saw out the corner of my eye somebody coming towards me and that was it."
That enabled Busch to get his lap back albeit still in 24th place, as the rest of the field also got a chance to make their first stop of the day under yellow which allowed a little extra time for any set-up changes required. Kenseth lost the battle with Johnson at the restart, and it was soon clear that there was now something very wrong with the #20 and that the car was loose and simply not handling as it had in the earlier stages of the race. It was all Kenseth could do to keep from wrecking, and he slid backwards through the pack at an alarming rate, ironically being passed on the way by his born-again team mate Kyle Busch who was making the most of his second chance and moving forward at a rate of knots.
"It was really bizarre," Kenseth admitted. "Typically, handling is a non-issue here [but] we just got so loose I couldn't even hang on to it. I pretty much had to run in the back for two runs which was disappointing."
The team made big changes to address the problem under the next green-flag pit stop on lap 122, and while Kenseth initially ran at the front again, he soon started to fall back and reported that his handling problems were still far from resolved. "Something is really bad here," he radioed the team. "It feels like the right rear is flat the whole run."
Jamie McMurray led for a single lap during this pit stop cycle, his first time out on front all afternoon. With his Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing team mate Montoya packed in the garage with a wrecked car, it seemed that getting a point for leading was likely to be the only bright point of the day. In total, 20 drivers led one lap or more during the race with 52 lead changes in total, but first among equals were the Hendricks duo of Johnson and Earnhardt who combined led for 85 of the 188 laps, with Johnson himself pocketing the additional bonus point for most laps led with 47.
A curious calm descended over the race as the leaders stretched out to a single-file formation everyone was waiting for something to happen, but instead the laps just kept ticking down. No one made a move, and there were no big multi-car wrecks to shake things up before the time came for a final round of pit stops with just over 25 laps remaining. It was a relief for Kenseth, whose crew had another shot at fixing what ailed the #20 and this time did a good enough job to allow Kenseth to go out there and compete - although there was now too little time remaining for him to work his way back to the front with the leaders resuming their stubborn adherence to the single line for the remainder of the race.
"After the last pit stop it drove good again. It drove fine that last pit stop," explained Kenseth. "I kind of got stuck three-wide on the bottom and then we actually hung in by the lead for a long time.
"When they got me shuffled back to the very bottom somebody went outside three-wide to make me on the bottom and just you're no good down there," he added. "So I fell back, got back up to 10th or 12th on the outside and then I thought everybody would mix it up at the end and try to make a race out of it, but everybody stayed up on the top and pedalled it. That was my bad. I guess I should have just been happy with 10th, but I just have a hard time doing that," he added after being squeezed down to 20th place by the finish.
Even though the tension mounted, the lack of any action breaking out among the leaders in the closing laps raised a lot of eyebrows, with many drivers mystified about just why so many of the leaders had been so reticent to chase the race win.
"There was nobody going anywhere that was behind us trying to make moves, so it didn't make any sense to go down there and try to make a move yourself and just fade to the back," said Busch, who had recovered to run in the top five after his near-death experience in the first half of the race. "It's monkey see, monkey do. If they go down or start moving up and start coming forward, then you've got to pull down and start making your move, but they all kept going backwards."