CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR's championship race took a huge swing Saturday night when Matt Kenseth staked a claim on the title moments after a viscous wreck sent Jimmie Johnson spiraling in the standings.
Kenseth passed Kyle Busch with 25 laps to go in the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and was pulling away when Johnson's wreck brought the race to a halt.
The five-time defending champion was seventh with 17 laps left when contact with Ryan Newman sent him headfirst into the wall. The hit was so hard, his back tires lifted off the track.
Johnson finished 34th and dropped to eighth in the Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship with five races remaining.
"That one stung for sure. Pretty big impact," Johnson said. "Definitely not the night we wanted. This is not going to help us win a sixth championship."
Johnson was on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week and had dismissed the idea of the so-called cover jinx. His finish was the worst in a Chase race since he was 38th at Texas in 2009.
"What happened to Jimmie Johnson is a sobering lesson for everyone," winning car owner Jack Roush said.
Kenseth, meanwhile, was celebrating in Victory Lane for the third time this season.
He hung near the front all night but missed several chances to take the lead because of botched restarts. He finally got it right with 25 laps remaining when he sailed past Busch and held off him and Carl Edwards on the last restart with 12 laps to go.
Kenseth jumped two spots in the standings to third, seven points behind Edwards at the halfway point of the Chase.
"It was tough to get by him, and I am glad we could make it by him because it was challenging," Kenseth said. "I was going to be pretty mad if I was going to lose this thing on restarts. Finally got one in the end."
Busch, who led a race-high 111 laps, settled for second. Though it was his best finish of the Chase, he was frustrated to fall short.
He also had a late run-in with Edwards, who finished third and leaned into Busch's car after the race to discuss an incident in the closing laps.
They two seemed fine with each other after the talk, with Busch insisting he did not race dirty and Edwards apparently accepting his explanation.
"There was no malicious intent involved," Busch said. "It was just a product of what we had at the end, giving everything we had and trying to come home second."
Busch probably had the best night of anyone after an engine change forced him to start last in the 43-car field. Despite early frustrations with the handling on his Toyota, he drove to the front and was in command until Kenseth came on strong.
"Just got outdrove," Busch said. "He just flat drove past me."
Kasey Kahne and Marcos Ambrose, two drivers not competing for the championship, finished fourth and fifth. It was the third straight top-10 finish for Ambrose, the first time in his career he has pulled that off.
Kevin Harvick was sixth, and he went from one point behind Edwards to fourth. AJ Allmendinger was seventh and was followed by pole-sitter Tony Stewart, who overcame late contact with Greg Biffle to finish eighth.
Kenseth's No. 17 Ford gave Roush Fenway Racing its first victory at Charlotte since Mark Martin in 2002.
"That 17, he found something that none of us could find tonight and made something out of nothing," Busch said.