Denny Hamlin scored his sixth win of the season and clinched the top seed in the Chase for the Sprint Cup in the process after he took the checkered flag in Saturday night's Air Guard 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
Hamlin picked up his 14th career series victory and second at the Virginia driver's home state track.
He dominated Saturday night's race, the final event of the regular season, but had to outrun his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch to the finish line.
The triumph gives Hamlin 60 bonus points and a ten point advantage over Jimmie Johnson in the Chase standings when the title run begins next weekend.
After suffering through a disappointing summer stretch, Hamlin feels as if his team is now ready to challenge for a title.
"It was a game of patience," Hamlin said. "I knew I was going to have something left for the end. Our team has performed like this over the last month or so, we just haven't had the finishes to go with it.
"I've been in a lot of these Chases and I've made a lot of mistakes. We're tough right now."
Johnson finished third and Joey Logano fourth, giving JGR three drivers in the first four. Johnson will now shoot for a record fifth straight title and knows he'll have to wrestle Hamlin for the crown.
“Maybe I took for granted how well Denny ran last year, that he would just be there ,” Johnson said. “That’s been the reality to me, that he’s going to be one of the guys to race for it. My guys are ready, I’m ready, we have got our mojo back and we are looking forward to it."
Marcos Ambrose rounded out the top five.
Clint Bowyer, Juan Pablo Montoya, A.J. Allmendinger, Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards completed the first ten finishers.
Bowyer's finish gave him one of the two final Chase positions that were undecided coming into Saturday night's race while Greg Biffle locked up the other berth with his 32nd place run.
As happy as I am to make the Chase, I was frustrated with the finish,” Bowyer said. “We were a second-place car and made an attempt to pass Denny a couple of times and slipped clear to sixth.”
The race featured several long green flag runs including the final 159 laps. A brief rain shower interrupted the proceedings for a caution just past the midway point.
The Chase for the Sprint Cup kicks off next Sunday with the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.