CONCORD, N.C. - Jeff Gordon conceded the win to one teammate, worried another would take it from him, then stressed about a fuel issue he feared would prevent him from finishing Saturday night's race.
Despite all his concerns, Gordon made it to the finish line for his sixth win of the season, and staked his claim on the Nextel Cup title. Gordon's win at Lowe's Motor Speedway helped him widen his lead in the standings from nine points at the start of the night to 68 over teammate Jimmie Johnson.
"Just an incredible day for the team," Gordon said. "We needed to get to the finish. We had such a hard time getting to the finish, whether we were wrecking or having a mechanical problem."
This track has vexed Gordon for several years, even though he notched the first of his 81 career victories here back in 1994 and he picked up three more wins along the way. But he had struggled here of late - he was 41st in May, and finished 24th or lower in six of his last seven starts at Lowe's.
But with everything on the line - including a fifth series title - Gordon finally turned it around.
He needed help from Johnson, who had an uncharacteristic spin, and a gentleman's agreement from teammate Kyle Busch, who could have wrecked him on a late restart but instead raced him clean.
Then Gordon got a gift from Ryan Newman, who bizarrely spun by himself while leading and the win all but wrapped up.
If all that wasn't enough, Gordon's Chevrolet developed a pickup problem that had Gordon afraid he was running out of fuel as the race headed to a two-lap overtime shootout following Newman's spin.
"I can't tell you how many times we tried to give this one away," Gordon said. "Jimmie Johnson, I'm not sure what happened to him. He had the field covered. But when I saw he had problems, I thought it was an opportunity for us."
Gordon capitalized after Johnson's spin to move into the lead. He passed Busch with 50 laps to go and was running away with the race until a late caution brought out the red flag and forced team owner Rick Hendrick to lecture both his drivers on the importance of not wrecking each other.
"All I ask is (Busch) be cautious, let's not wreck each other," Gordon radioed. "If he can win it, great. But let's do it smart. I'd be happy to finish second to him."
Hendrick than called for Busch.
"Jeff says if you look like you got it, he'll let you go," he told Busch. "But you guys just be smart, OK? "
"That's good," Busch replied.
"No wrecks, OK?" Hendrick reiterated.
Hendrick than assured Gordon that Busch would race him clean.
And the restart with five to go indeed went off without a hitch - until Newman scooted by both Hendrick cars on the outside to grab the lead. He seemed to be headed to an easy win, but inexplicably spun to bring out the caution. Gordon inherited the lead, but his fuel issue had him in a near panic before the overtime finish.
"This race was more stressful than it needed to be," crew chief Steve Letarte said.
Gordon had no issue, though, on the restart and pulled away from Clint Bowyer and Busch for his first win at the suburban Charlotte track since 1999.
It was his second straight victory, coming off the heels of last week's win at Talladega Superspeedway.
Bowyer finished second to maintain third in the standings, 78 points out.
"This isn't my best race track, but they gave me a great hot rod," Bowyer said. "I'm just thrilled that I made it through here without hitting the Turn 4 wall. We ain't out of it, and if we keep going, we're going to give Jack Daniels a championship."
Busch was third, and gained two spots in the Chase standings, but is still sixth and 280 points out.
"Easy day. Third place. Whatever," Busch said. "Didn't make up much ground in the points."
Jeff Burton was fourth and followed by Carl Edwards, Dave Blaney and Tony Stewart as Chase drivers took six of the first seven spots.
Johnson, a five-time winner here, led three times for a race-high 95 laps and appeared to be headed to Victory Lane yet again at the track his team considers its own personal playground.
But he had an uncharacteristic error, spinning his Chevrolet late in the race when he ran too close to the wall and his car went skidding across the track and into the grass. The spin stunned a field that is used to Johnson being flawless here, but that he managed to keep the damage to a minimum was just as impressive.
"He kept if off everything!" Busch yelled. "I saw it! Saw the whole thing. Unbelievable."
Johnson wasn't so sure, and crew chief Chad Knaus tried to settle him down.
"It's not bad, man, we're going to be fine," he told the driver.
Indeed, the damage was minimal. But it prevented Johnson from racing for the win and he settled for a 14th-place finish.
The race was almost a disaster for Stewart, who was clinging to his title hopes at the start of the night, and it was awful for Matt Kenseth, who was pretty much eliminated from contention before his many misadventures.
Stewart's car was off early, and his Joe Gibbs Racing team needed more than 100 laps to get him moving toward the front of the field. But his night was ruined during a mid-race pit stop, when he nearly collided with Paul Menard as he exited his stall, had to drive around him and moved directly into Kasey Kahne's path.
The two cars collided and Stewart's Chevrolet suffered enough damage to force him back to pit road for numerous repairs. He was furious after, complaining to his crew that "31 ... guys that aren't in this (Chase) can dictate it."
Although he eeked out the seventh-place finish, he dropped from 154 points out of the lead at the start of the night to 198 out.
"It's not over til you tell me that mathematically we can't do it," crew chief Greg Zipadelli said.
Kenseth came into the race in 11th-place in the standings, then had three separate incidents ruin his run: He spun early through the grass and into the wall to cause slight damage to his Ford, then later was hit by John Andretti as he slowed for a caution, and finally spun and hit the wall hard because his handling was off from the earlier incidents.
He wound up 34th, and is 442 points out.
Kevin Harvick also had a long night because of an early tire problem, but the crew guessed incorrectly on which tires were in trouble and had to stop twice to fix the issue. It put him two laps down very early in the race, he never recovered and finished 33rd. It dropped him three spots in the standings to eighth and he's 328 points out.