CONCORD, N.C. - Jeff Burton summed up his job over the final 33 laps of Saturday's Bank of America 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway quite succinctly in victory lane.
"Drive hard," he said.
That's what Burton did, fending off a challenge from points leader Jimmie Johnson right after the final restart and staying in front of a late charge from Kasey Kahne to score his second victory of the season and climb right into the thick of the Chase for the Sprint Cup battle.
Burton's crew chief, Scott Miller, elected to put just one can of fuel in Burton's Chevrolet on the final pit stop, changing no tires in an effort to keep the No. 31 at the front of the field in the clean air that was so helpful for leaders all night long.
"I cut that a little close," Miller said after Burton pulled away. "We've got enough, but we won't for a green-white-checkered finish."
Burton didn't need it, and he said Miller's decision not to take tires was a big one.
"Scott made a great call there," Burton said. "That's what won the race. We were at our best on old tires, and we were good enough when it counted."
Kahne, trying to become the first driver to win the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Challenge, the Coca-Cola 600 and this race in the same year, took two tires on his final pit stop and came from third on the restart to finish second. He got with just under a second of Burton but ran out of laps.
Johnson was second on the restart on Lap 302 and spent the next two laps racing side-by-side with Burton for the lead. Johnson tried to go by on the inside and nearly took the lead away several times. But Burton held him off.
"Two times, once in Turn 1 and once in Turn 3, I was dead sideways and I thought I was going to clean us both out," Johnson said.
That battle might have taken something out of Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet because he slid back over the final laps, losing positions and points along the way. Johnson wound up sixth and that allowed Burton, now 69 points back, to eat 30 points off what Johnson led him by coming in.
"I was certainly frustrated there at the end," Johnson said. "You don't know how much those points are going to count at the end of the year."
Burton jumped from fourth to second in the standings, passing Greg Biffle, who finished seventh Saturday, and Carl Edwards, who finished 33rd after having ignition system problems early in the race and falling 16 laps down. Biffle now trails Johnson by 86 points while Edwards fell 168 back.
Burton, who won at Bristol early this year, has now won more than one race in a season for the first time since 2001. This was also the first Charlotte win for Richard Childress Racing since May 1994.
"It's just an incredible feeling when you turn into victory lane," said Burton, who two years ago left Charlotte with the Chase lead only to have a blown engine at Martinsville sidetrack his title bid.
"We're halfway," Burton said of this year's title race. "There's a long way to go. I keep telling everybody that, but they keep wanting to give somebody the trophy right now."
Burton got the lead on Lap 278, passing Biffle to the outside as they ran behind cars trapped on the lead lap by the previous caution.
Juan Pablo Montoya hit the wall in Turn 2 on Lap 296 to bring out a yellow that brought everyone in for their final stops.
The fuel-only call kept Burton first, with Johnson second on two fresh tires just ahead of Kahne and Kurt Busch. Kurt Busch held on for third with his brother, Kyle, getting his first top-five finish in the Chase by rallying from a late pit-road speeding penalty to finish fourth.
Jamie McMurray also moved past Johnson late to get fifth.
Jeff Gordon fell a lap down early after smacking the wall twice in the opening laps. He fought back, though, and had the lead when he made a pit stop after a caution on Lap 265 while most of the other leaders stayed on the track. Gordon finished eight.