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Harvick survives wild finish to win Daytona 500

Feb 19, 2007 - 4:23 AM By Bruce Martin PA SportsTicker Contributing Editor

DAYTONA BEACH, Florida (Ticker) -- Kevin Harvick knew he was going to be the bad guy. But that didn't stop him from dealing Mark Martin a crushing blow.

Harvick nipped the NASCAR Nextel Cup veteran at the finish line Sunday to win the 49th Daytona 500.

"I knew when I got out of the car I wasn't going to be the good guy, that's just the way it works," said Harvick, who won $1,510,469. "I knew I would be the bad guy with Mark in the lead at the end, but I did what I had to do."

With cars crashing, spinning, flipping and burning behind them, Harvick and Martin raced their Chevrolet Monte Carlos to the checkered flag before NASCAR finally hit the yellow caution light.

It was the 11th career victory for Harvick, who averaged 149.333 miles per hour to win this race for the first time in his career.

"Matt Kenseth just pushed the (heck) out of me there," he said. "This is the Daytona 500, can you believe it?

"I can't believe it. We were 30-something there with 15 laps to go and we were able to do it."

Harvick edged Martin by less than a car hood to give team owner Richard Childress his second Daytona 500 triumph. The margin of victory was 0.02 seconds, the closest finish in this event since electronic scoring was implemented in 1993.

The late Dale Earnhardt gave Childress his first Daytona 500 win in 1998. However, the last time this race was run on February 18, Earnhardt was killed in a last-lap crash in 2001.

But six years after Earnhardt's tragic death, Childress and Harvick were all smiles in Victory Lane.

Harvick made a bit of history with his victory, becoming the first reigning Busch Series winner to win the sport's marquee event. His starting position of 34th is the lowest ever for a Daytona 500 winner.

"The Great American Race" ended with a massive crash on the frontstretch which featured Clint Bowyer's Chevrolet flipping over onto its hood and catching on fire.

Bowyer, who was not injured, gave a blunt response when asked what was going through his mind as he turned upside-down.

"Just a lot of mud coming in," he said.

The crash was triggered by Kyle Busch, who appeared to be Martin's biggest threat in the closing laps.

But Harvick had gained so much momentum coming off the second turn, it gave him a tremendous run that would ultimately give him the biggest victory of his career.

"We had taken so many chances at that point, it was the last lap of the Daytona 500 and you had to go," said Harvick, who was in sixth position at the white flag. "A bunch of demons came out when it got dark, I know that much.

"All hell broke loose. It was survival of the fittest at that point."

Martin was attempting to win the Daytona 500 for the first time in 23 career attempts. But the 48-year-old was victimized by the decision to not throw the yellow flag, which would have frozen the field and given Martin the win.

"We saw him up there and were doing everything we could," he said. "It's the Daytona 500, man. If they had just thrown the yellow, we would have had it in our fingers."

A four-time series runner-up, Martin nearly held off Harvick to score the biggest victory of his career before falling just short.

"I wanted to win that thing," Martin said. "They were going to have to pry it out of our fingers."

Jeff Burton, Martin's former teammate, ran third while fellow Chevy driver Mike Wallace, who barely qualified for the starting lineup, finished fourth. Rookie David Ragan rounded out the top five in a Ford Fusion.

Fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. crashed on the backstretch with four laps remaining when he tangled with teammate Martin Truex Jr.

The wreck started when Ricky Rudd's Ford hit the back of Jamie McMurray's Ford, causing the race to be red-flagged 11 minutes, 39 seconds for cleanup.

When the green flag finally waved with two laps left, each of the top-10 drivers began pursuit of their first victory in this race.

The frantic finish overshadowed some amazing events which occurred earlier.

Kenseth took the lead on lap 173 when he passed Truex at the start-finish line with McMurray, his teammate at Roush Fenway Racing, on his tail.

But the race was halted by "The Big One" two laps later, when defending winner and reigning series champion Jimmie Johnson lost control of his Chevy coming off turn 2.

Johnson slammed into the backstretch wall past the SAFER barrier, triggering a multi-car crash that also involved Denny Hamlin, Jeff Green, Tony Raines and rookie David Reutimann. Green had nowhere to go and slammed into Johnson's Chevy.

"It was certainly disappointing to lose control of the car like that and then getting caught up in that wreck and cause that big pile-up," Johnson said. "We were trying to come up through the center and make up some lost time. I got loose in the center."

The wreck gave the field one last chance to pit, and Martin took the lead ahead of former teammate Carl Edwards.

The green flag waved with 22 laps left, and Martin started to pull away. Earnhardt tried to use the high line in the third turn and nearly was pinched into the wall.

Greg Biffle ran his Ford along the bottom lane to move into second ahead of Kenseth.

With cars running three-wide behind the lead group, Reed Sorenson's Dodge Charger got sideways coming off the fourth turn. Dave Blaney's Toyota Camry was forced off the track, but he sped down pit road at 152 mph.

Blaney shot back up the track, taking out Ken Schrader's Ford. Bowyer and Wallace also were involved but avoided further damage.

Edwards was penalized for pitting too soon, putting him at the end of the longest line when the green flag waved on with 10 laps left.

Two-time series champion Tony Stewart led twice for a total of 35 laps before being taken out while leading by second-place Kurt Busch on lap 153.

"I'm not completely sure what happened out there," Stewart said. "All of the sudden it took off on me. I haven't seen it on film, so I am not sure what happened."

Stewart had overcome a pit-road speeding penalty that dropped him to 39th to retake the lead only to see his Daytona dream once again end in disappointment.

"It was pretty impressive to go all the way to the back and come up all the way to the front of the field like that," he said. "I was really happy about that. ... We fell back and came back."

Kurt Busch's Dodge was damaged and spent considerable time in the garage area before returning to the track.

Despite holding the lead for 95 of the 200 laps, Kurt Busch also saw his day come to a premature end. The 2004 series champion showed overwhelming remorse for his blunder.

"I bumped in the 20 car (Stewart), and we were both taken out of the Daytona 500 off of my mistake," he said. "I hate it for my guys. They worked real hard at putting together good cars.

"We were poised for a good run at the end and we got bottled up. I made the first mistake, and I apologize to the 20 car. I know it doesn't help any."

While the Stewart-Busch wreck seemed monumental at the time, the crash between the two racing heavyweights simply was a preliminary of what would follow.

"The last 40 laps were crazy," Burton said. "I can't tell you how wild and aggressive those last 40 laps were. It was insane as all the carnage will prove."

Kyle Busch, who looked like he was the one driver that could keep Martin from winning the race, never crossed the start-finish line after spinning out in turn 4 of the final lap. He finished 24th.

That started a massive crash that added more confusion to a SpeedWeeks that was overshadowed by scandal.

"(Kyle Busch) got loose, and then we all wrecked," Biffle said.

The last-lap crash was so widespread, NASCAR's unofficial race report listed all the cars involved as "running at the finish."

The drivers involved were Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Biffle, pole-sitter David Gilliland, Kenseth and Sterling Marlin.

"I saw them crashing, I saw them going every which way," Gordon said. "When you see the start-finish line, you're never letting off. Everybody was trying to get there."

The week started with one of the biggest cheating scandals in Daytona 500 history and ended in confusion and crashes.

Even the newly-crowned winner lost control of his emotions after taking the checkered flag.

"I got so excited at the end of the race," Harvick said. "I didn't realize how excited I was, and I punched the mirror out of the car."