Despite concerns of running out of fuel, Jeff Gordon crossed the line first in Saturday night's Bank of America 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, claiming his second win in a row and extending his lead in the Chase for the Nextel Cup.
Gordon reassumed the lead and began to conserve fuel while under yellow. On the green-white-checkered restart, the four-time NASCAR Cup series champion held off Clint Bowyer and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Busch to take the win.
"I can't tell you how many times we tried to give this one away!" Gordon said in victory lane. "I was having trouble with the [fuel] pickup on the banking. Even on the last [restart], the tires spun so bad so bad, Clint Bowyer could have gone right by me. He gave me a big shot in the rear bumper and got me going again. What an awesome day. This is what we've been looking for - getting us a win at Charlotte."
The win Saturday night crushed Gordon's bad luck streak at Charlotte, after having five consecutive DNFs at "the Beast of the Southeast". It was his second straight victory in the Chase races and 81st of his Cup career.
"Our goal coming into it was to get to the end, 500 miles," Gordon said. "I think we felt like if we could get 500 miles, we would have a Top 5 car. But you know, there's no doubt that this team has an amazing chemistry about it. There's some great things happening, but there are still five races to go and all that has to continue in order for us to get this championship."
Gordon extended his lead in the Chase to 68 points over teammate Jimmie Johnson, who rebounded to a 14th place finish after enduring a mid-race accident. Gordon finished 0.579 seconds ahead of second-placed Bowyer, who got into the rear of the No. 24 Chevy on the final restart.
"I was closing on him pretty good and I had my car rolling and he was spinning [his tires]," Bowyer explained. "Just about the time I moved out, he really checked out. I think that's when he shifted and didn't give me enough time to dart low. I was trying to wait to the line before I started low to make sure I was covered by the rule. But I messed up. I ran in the back of him and had a pretty good run on him."
"We are after a championship and we are still in this thing," said Bowyer. "We just have to pick up our game a little bit more the rest of these races and I think we will be okay."
Kyle Busch beat Gordon out of the pits during the final round of pitstops on lap 279. However, the No. 5 Chevy didn't stay up front for long as Gordon blasted past Busch for the lead on the restart five laps later.
"We had a pretty good car all night long," said Busch. "We were fighting a tight chatter through the center of the corner and got it a little bit freed up and got it a little bit too loose there but still kept it loose to keep it turning. We were just really, really loose on the short run there and that's why everybody kept running way from us for a while, especially Jeff and Clint."
Jeff Burton made a late-race charge to finish fourth while Carl Edwards ended the night in fifth. Dave Blaney was sixth -- the highest-placed Toyota while Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, David Stremme and Michael Waltrip rounded out the top ten.
Other notables include Ricky Rudd (11th), Bobby Labonte (12th) and A.J. Allmendinger (15th).
Newman, who made pass on Gordon to take the lead with five laps left, looked to be cruising to his first victory of the year but instead ended his night in the turn 2 wall.
While the top five were swept by Chasers, other championship hopefuls fell victim to "the beast".
Kevin Harvick was the first to run into trouble, suffering from a flat tire. With two costly green flag stops, he dropped off the lead lap, finishing 33rd. Harvick slipped from fifth to eighth in the standings, now 328 points behind Gordon.
Chaser Matt Kenseth enjoyed a great opening of the race, leading 32 laps. However, a series of incidents halted his efforts, coming home 34th. With four straight finishes 25th or worse, Kenseth is 12th in the Chase standings, 442 points out of the lead.
"I really feel like an idiot out here tonight," he remarked. "I wrecked twice and it seems like we've wrecked for a month straight, so I really want to apologize to my fans. It's kind of hard to stress how these guys work on this car. I really feel bad for these guys. I really let them down."
Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart both suffered front fender damage in separate incidents on pit road. While Stewart was able to rebound to a seventh place finish, Busch came home 26th, two laps down after dropping a cylinder late in the race.
Jimmie Johnson, who was only 9 points behind Gordon before Saturday night, led a race-high 95 laps. However, he backed his No. 48 Chevy into the wall on lap 231, dashing hopes of victory. Johnson worked his way back up to sixth for the green-white-checkered finish but the car started sputtering. He ended up 14th, retaining his runner-up position in the Chase.
"We deserved to finish in the top five tonight," Johnson said. "We had a good performance so there is some light at the end of the tunnel. But it's just a bummer of a night."
Denny Hamlin, who also had a strong car, ran into late-race transmission issues, resulting in a 20th place finish.
The 500-mile race was slowed 15 times, with a 12-minute red flag also coming out late in the race.
With five races remaining to decide the 2007 Nextel Cup Champion, the series heads to Martinsville Raceway next weekend, to do battling on the half-mile paperclip oval.