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Five-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson, points leader Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon were among the drivers who ran out of gas on the last lap, and all plummeted in the final finishing order.

Harvick, who started the race tied with Busch for the points lead, held on for second after his crew chief told him to run wide open and not worry about fuel.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. capitalized other drivers’ fuel problems to finish third, his best showing since he was second at Kansas 14 weeks ago. The strong result pushed him from 10th to fifth in the standings.

“Obviously we gained a lot of spots there at the end with guys that were short of fuel,” said Earnhardt, “but we were running really well at the end.”

Johnson wound up 10th, and dropped two spots to eighth in the standings.

“I really felt like I had done enough,” Johnson said. “I don’t know what I did so desperately wrong.”

Matt Kenseth led four times for 46 laps, had to save gas at the end and still ran out. Even worse, because JJ Yeley pushed him across the finish line apparently in eighth-place — NASCAR ruled the last-lap assistance was illegal and dropped Kenseth to 21st in the final running order.

“I don’t know what to do about the fuel mileage,” said Kenseth, the pole-sitter, who dropped six spots in the standings to 10th.

“It is really frustrating to be a race car driver and they drop the green on the last run of the day when you are supposed to put on a show for the fans, and you have to run half throttle and can’t floor it or you will run out of gas. It is pretty aggravating to do all the work and qualifying and pit stops and adjustments but none of it makes a difference.”

Kyle Busch, who began the day tied with Harvick for the points lead, ran out of gas and finish 22nd. He’s now ninth in points.

“I saved as much fuel as I could, but I guess it just wasn’t enough and we ran out with two to go,” said Busch. “Just really disappointing day.”

Same for Jeff Gordon, who rallied back into the top-10 from an early tire issue, only to run out of gas and finish 24th. He dropped from third in points to 11th.

“It was definitely not the race we wanted to start the Chase off with,” Gordon said. “We’re going to fight like crazy these next nine races and we could still get it done.”

Hardest hit on Monday, though, was Denny Hamlin. He used the second wild-card spot to make it into the Chase and had the worst day of the 12 championship contending drivers.

A vibration forced him to pit out of sequence, which dropped him a lap down from the leaders. He could never make it back, and a flat tire later sealed his 31st-place finish.

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