Chase Elliott took advantage of the unexpected opportunity to earn his second career Cup win, holding off Denny Hamlin on the overtime restart to take the checkered flag at the Gander Outdoors 400.
"I've had an up and down year I feel like", Elliott said, "and to have this race slip away (last year when he was passed for the lead late by Kyle Busch) makes today that much more sweet".
As the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway this weekend, NASCAR's top series holds its annual "Wild Card Game" of a different sort four races into its own playoffs and during the month of October.
"We've had so many opportunities and been so close and had the vehicle to win and been in position, and I don't know, it just seems to not come through", a disconsolate Almirola said after the race.
The NASCAR playoffs continue next Sunday at Talladega.
Elliott inherited the lead late in the race after a wreck took out some of the frontrunners with five laps to go.
SHR was in control with Kevin Harvick early and Almirola late.
Rain washed out qualifying and the field was set by points, putting the 12 playoff drivers at the top of the field. He had led 286 laps at that point.
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Elliott led the field to a restart on Lap 397, but on the backstretch during that circuit, Aric Almirola nicked the outside wall and started a chain-reaction collision that also damaged the cars of fellow playoff drivers Brad Keselowski, Alex Bowman, Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Blaney. Elliott was passed by victor Kyle Busch with two laps left in the race and fell to 0 for 70 in his career. That triggered a multi-car wreck that collected championship contenders and brought out the red flag to force overtime. "I guess that makes up for the bad luck of losing the race with an absolute dominant auto". Elliott was third when he stayed out on yellow, and would lead the final 11 laps. "The way the rulebook looks today, I think the teams and the drivers understand what it looks like, and I think we'll clarify for '19 with more specific language in it".
"I think that was our best opportunity to win the race, and it was our best opportunity to score the most points we could score", crew chief Alan Gustafson said.
"He's been so close here", Hendrick said.
Lowe's, which had been on the hood for all seven championships, said this year it was leaving the sport and Hendrick had yet to find another sponsor. His No. 48 Chevrolet was forced to the garage during the pace laps because of mechanical woes and he finished 36th.
Johnson's bid for a record eighth NASCAR Cup title ended last week when he was eliminated from the playoffs.
Elliott was the surprise victor in a race that had been dominated by Stewart-Haas Racing drivers until a pair of wrecks over the final laps jumbled the field and set the stage for Elliott. They have a kiosk here, you can bet inside. Busch and Harvick each had 3-1 odds to win the race.
Sports betting has come to DE and the track is set to throw open the betting windows and allow wagers on most of this weekend's track activity. Elliott's father, Hall of Fame driver Bill Elliott, was not at the race.