Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 42nd, falling to 14th in the Chase.
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- Tony Stewart was more stunned than anyone.
With just two laps remaining in Sunday's Centurion Boats at The Glen at Watkins Glen International, Jeff Gordon had a two car-length lead on Stewart. NASCAR's top two road racers were preparing for a final clash.
It never happened. Gordon spun out on his own heading into the first turn, Stewart zoomed past, held off a late charge from Carl Edwards, and won for the third time in four races.
"Trust me, I was probably the most shocked person," Stewart said after his 36th career victory, tying him for 19th all-time with Dale Jarrett. "Our only shot of getting by him was to keep the pressure on him and hope he'd make a mistake.
"I think our car was a tick better than Jeff's, but if Jeff doesn't make that mistake, we run for second," said Stewart, who has won four of the last five Cup races at Watkins Glen and finished second a year ago to Kevin Harvick. "You were going to have to be a bunch faster to get by him. Whoever was in the lead with 10 to go was probably going to win the race."
A dejected Gordon finished ninth.
"I was driving hard," he said. "I just overdrove going into one. It was just stupid. I knew I had to push because Tony was really good."
For Stewart, who spun out in the same place while leading earlier in the race and dropped to 19th, it was his sixth win on a road course, tying him for second behind Gordon's record nine.
"I saw Jeff lose it just like I lost it," Stewart said. "I had to keep fighting back. Jeff has won four championships and 79 races. He's the last guy you expect to have a problem like that."
All but assured of a spot in the Chase for the Nextel Cup championship, both Stewart and Edwards fought hard for the victory. The top 12 drivers in the standings after 26 races will race for the title and the points for every driver will be reset at 5,000, but each win counts for an extra 10 points once the Chase begins. Gordon and Jimmie Johnson lead the series with four wins, Stewart has three and Edwards one.
Edwards made a desperate final try for another in the rapid four-turn Inner Loop coming out of the high-speed esses.
"I just figured, the heck with it," said Edwards, who went off course and finished eighth. "I just didn't want to finish second."
Denny Hamlin ended up second and Johnson was third.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffered a big blow to his chances of making the Chase with just four races remaining before the cutoff. After complaining in practice about how bad his car was handling, Earnhardt turned things around in the race and was running up front much of the day. But while running third behind Gordon and Kurt Busch, the engine in the red No. 8 Chevrolet blew, ending his day on lap 63. He finished 42nd.
It was the fifth DNF of the season for Earnhardt. Four have been engine-related. He entered the day trailing Busch by seven points for the 12th and final spot in the Chase and dropped to 14th, four points behind Ryan Newman and 100 points behind Busch, who rallied to finish 11th after being penalized for speeding on pit road.
"I was hoping for a good showing and have something to be proud of," Earnhardt said. "I'm kind of disappointed."