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Race Coverage
THIRD PLACE  

Dustin Long
Greensboro News & Record
 
Harvick edges Martin to win Daytona 500

     DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Mark Martin thought he won. Then he lost. Kevin Harvick was lost. Then he won.

     Sunday night’s turbulent Daytona 500 ended with a flying car, flames and the event’s closest finish in more than a decade. It was enough to make many fans forget the talk this past week about cheating.

     Harvick charged from sixth on the final lap to nip Martin by about five feet as Clint Bowyer rolled, Kyle Busch wrecked and others slammed off the wall and each other. NASCAR Nextel Cup officials didn’t wave the caution flag for the seven-car crash – which would have frozen the standings – until after Harvick and Martin crossed the finish line together. NASCAR’s late call could have denied Martin the victory.

     “I can’t believe they waited,” Martin radioed his team. “They waited. I had him. They left the green (flag) out while they were wrecking.”

     A NASCAR spokesperson said that officials didn’t call for the caution immediately because the cars were already off the track. Earlier in the race, though, NASCAR called for a caution when Boris Said spun off the track in the backstretch.

     Martin, 0-for-23 in this race, demurred later when asked about NASCAR’s decision.

     “Nobody wants to hear a grown man cry,” he said.

     Martin admitted it wouldn’t be easy to forget his best chance to win this race.

     “I will probably feel some sadness somewhere,” said the 48-year-old, who lives minutes from Daytona International Speedway.

     Harvick felt numb. An adult-beverage shower, courtesy of his team in victory lane, coupled with unseasonable temperatures in the 40s by race’s end, left him shivering. The 31-year-old Californian never felt so good.

     “I don’t think there’s anything that can match the Daytona 500,” said Harvick, who also has won the Brickyard 400 among his 11 career Cup victories.

     Certainly not the pain. An excited Harvick punched a mirror in his car after he won and thought he’d hurt his hand. He later said he was fine.

     The broken mirror proved not to be a violation, as all cars cleared post-race inspection. The sport’s integrity took a hit this week when series officials suspended five crew chiefs and penalized six teams for breaking various rules. The sport’s mystique of moonshiners and mayhem seemed to come back to life.

     The penalties overshadowed Tony Stewart’s dominant Speedweeks and his quest to win the Budweiser Shootout, his qualifying race and the 500. He did the first two but finished last in the race that counted.

     Stewart led when second-place Kurt Busch tapped him in turn 4 and wrecked both to bring out the caution 46 laps from the finish. Busch, who finished 41st, took the blame. Busch’s mistake eliminated the two best cars. He and Stewart combined to lead 130 of the first 152 laps.

     With them out and night falling over this race for the first time in its 49-year history, “a bunch of demons came out,” Harvick said.

     Cautions bunched the field and cooler temperatures helped handling. A race that featured single-file racing the first half showcased three- and four-wide racing late.

     “It was about survival because it was so wild and crazy out there,” said Jeff Gordon, who finished 10th although he was involved in the last-lap crash.

     Defending race winner Jimmie Johnson and former winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. also were involved in separate multi-car crashes in the final 30 laps.

     The final caution came when Jamie McMurray crashed and collected Ricky Rudd and Earnhardt. This wreck forced the race into overtime for the second consecutive year. This time, they raced two laps beyond the scheduled 200-lap distance.

     Harvick needed both laps. He restarted seventh. He ran sixth beside Elliott Sadler when they began the final lap.

     Harvick moved to the high lane with Matt Kenseth and teammate Jeff Burton, who would finish third, helping push him. Harvick rocketed off turn 2 and stormed down the backstretch as Martin tried to block second-place Kyle Busch. When Martin saw Harvick, it was too late.

     Harvick ran beside Martin and they exited turn 4 side-by-side when Busch lost control and crashed. Martin nosed ahead before Harvick surged forward in the final 150 yards.

     “How about that?“ Harvick screamed on his radio.