The Big One waited until the final corner.
Matt Kenseth escaped a massive pileup in Turn 4 on Lap 189 of Sunday's Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 at Talladega Superspeedway to win the fourth race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Jeff Gordon likewise dodged the 20-car wreck, triggered by contact between Tony Stewart's Chevrolet and Michael Waltrip's Toyota, and ran second, followed by Kyle Busch, David Ragan and Greg Biffle.
Brad Keselowski finished seventh and extended his championship lead to 14 points over Jimmie Johnson, whose Chevrolet was heavily damaged in the wreck and limped home in 17th.
Jamie McMurray, who had led 39 laps, spun in the tri-oval on lap 183, as he got a push from Kevin Harvick. McMurray brought out the fourth caution, but, miraculously, no other cars were collected in the incident.
Clint Bowyer led the field to the restart on Lap 188, but Stewart quickly took the point. Trying to block Waltrip in the final corner, Stewart turned across the nose of the No. 55 Toyota and triggered the wreck.
The first round of green-flag pit stops proved the undoing -- albeit temporary -- of Earnhardt, Kyle Busch and Trevor Bayne, all of whom were flagged for speeding on pit road. After serving pass-through penalties, all three drivers were lapped by the pack.
Just past the halfway point, Kenseth surged past Kurt Busch into the lead, marking a full recovery from a Lap 42 spin off the bumper of teammate Greg Biffle and subsequent spectacular save.
Bayne got his lap back as the "lucky dog" on Lap 99, when Kurt Busch lost fuel pressure off Turn 2 and spun off the bumper of Jamie McMurray's Chevrolet, slamming the wall and causing the second caution of the afternoon.
Driving James Finch's Phoenix Racing Chevrolet for the final time before debuting for Furniture Row Racing next weekend at Charlotte, Busch --helmet off and out of radio contact with his team and NASCAR -- drove away from the accident scene before NASCAR had cleared him and was parked for his effrontery.
It wasn't until 40 laps later that Earnhardt and Kyle Busch regained their lost laps. Earnhardt paced the field as the last car on the lead lap when NASCAR called a caution for debris on Lap 39. Busch also rejoined the lead lap as the highest-scored lapped car and restarted third on Lap 144 after the vast majority of drivers returned to pit road to top off their fuel tanks on Lap 142.
Caught up in the wreck on the last lap, Earnhardt came home 21st.