Tony Stewart seized the lead from five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson on a final restart with three laps remaining, winning the Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
"Just determination," said Stewart, who nearly fell a lap down midway through the race and led only 14 of 500 laps of a caution-plagued race. "We didn't have the best race car, but we had the most determined pit crew to get (the car) as good as they could."
With his third victory of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the two-time champion improved two spots to second in the standings, trailing Carl Edwards by eight points with three races remaining. Edwards rebounded for ninth after falling a lap down twice.
"That's just a gift," said Edwards, whose Roush Fenway Racing teammate Matt Kenseth (31st) fell from second to fifth in the points after a late crash.
Johnson finished second, followed by Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick as Chevrolets swept the top four. Denny Hamlin was fifth.
Of Edwards, hard-charging Stewart said, "He better be worried. That's all I've got to say. He isn't going to have an easy three weeks."
The season closes with races at Texas, Phoenix and Homestead-Miami; Edwards has traditionally done very well at the latter two.
Other Chase drivers in the top 10 were Dale Earnhardt Jr. (seventh) and Ryan Newman (10th).
It was Stewart's third victory in seven Chase races; he also won at Chicagoland Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
The race featured a season-high 18 caution flags (the most at Martinsville since a record 21 in October 2007) and plenty of flared tempers.
Martinsville's tight confines weren't so kind to Chase contenders Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch. Both drivers were collected in a multicar pileup with 36 laps remaining.
Kenseth, who entered the race ranked second in points behind Edwards, went to the garage for major repairs and finished 31st.
Busch had a tire roll off his Toyota after a pit stop to fix the damage from the accident. He fell seven laps down and finished 27th.
Chase contender Brad Keselowski also lost ground in the points, finishing 17th after a spin with two laps remaining.
Harvick is third in points, 21 behind Edwards; Keselowski (27 back) is fourth, and Kenseth (36 back) is fifth.
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