Greg Biffle showed late-race muscle and outran Brad Keselowski in a green-white-checkered finish to score his second victory of the year in Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
The win returned Biffle to the Sprint Cup point lead with three races remaining in the regular season.
The victory appeared to rest in the hands of former series point leader Jimmie Johnson, who had a relatively comfortable lead with five laps to go when his engine blew, sending him to the garage and, shortly thereafter, out of the race track in his passenger vehicle.
Keselowski, Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Marcos Ambrose followed Biffle to the finish.
Biffle led the points for 11 straight weeks in the first half of the season and made his return to the top spot Sunday.
The end of the race was set up with 20 laps to go when Trevor Bayne whacked the wall in turn one, bringing out the afternoon’s seventh caution. The yellow came near the end of a pit-stop cycle, and the green flew with 14 laps to go and Keselowski and Johnson in front.
Johnson sprinted into the lead with 10 laps left and steadily built his margin, but it dissolved with five laps left when his engine expired. That left the lead to Biffle as the caution reappeared. Johnson finished 27th.
The last caution sent the race into a green-white-checkered overtime, and Biffle, who started the final two laps in first place, held off Keselowski over the four-mile stretch to claim the win.
The race was interrupted on lap 65 by one of the most dangerous pit-road accidents in years.
The wreck began in turn four as Bobby Labonte slipped into a slide. Mark Martin, preparing to lap Labonte, slid behind Labonte and lost control of his car, which slid to the inside and across pit road before slamming into an end of pit wall on the driver’s side.
Several crewmen jumped back quickly to avoid Martin’s car. There were no injuries.
Kahne rallied to roll home third despite being involved in the Martin accident. He slid through the fourth turn as he and Martin wrestled for the lead and drove across the grassy area separating the frontstretch from pit road.
The day was a sour one for Jeff Gordon, one of a small group of drivers battling for a wild-card spot in the Chase.
Earnhardt Jr., Gordon’s teammate, drew Gordon’s ire on a restart in the first half of the race as they battled for position. Gordon told his team via radio that “I should have wrecked him,” referring to Earnhardt Jr.
Told on his team radio that Gordon was upset, Junior said he wasn’t aware that he had done anything wrong.
“He took me four wide,” Gordon said of Earnhardt Jr. after Gordon drove his car into the garage with engine trouble. “He slipped off turn two. I had to check up or wreck all of us. I just didn’t think it was the smartest thing to do, especially to a teammate. But he chose to do it, and that’s fine. That one was pretty close. No big deal.”
Gordon’s 28th-place finish puts him in serious trouble relative to the Chase. He probably needs a win in the next three races to have a good shot at making the playoffs.
Kahne and Ryan Newman remained in the two wild-card positions for the Chase, but chances of that situation changing dramatically increased Sunday, with 10th-place Denny Hamlin now only 33 points ahead of 11th-place Kahne in the point standings. If Kahne advances to 10th place over the next three races, the wild-card standings behind him could be scrambled considerably.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.