Kevin Harvick pulled off the weekend sweep by dominating the last 40 laps of Saturday's Busch Series race, then beating Mark Martin to the finish line of Sunday's 49th Daytona 500 by a yard as a melee ensued behind them.
The first half of the 500 was fairly docile, with Kyle Busch's Chevy getting out front early before big brother Kurt drove his Penske Dodge to the point. The leaders lined up and were content to drive away from the field. Handling was at a premium, and this allowed the cars to string out in single-file groups rather than the usual two- and three-wide packs that are the norm at restrictor-plate tracks.
But the story of this race was ultimately its hectic and perhaps controversial final lap.
It appeared for some time that Kurt Busch and two-time series champion Tony Stewart were going to settle who won, with Kyle Busch waiting in the wings. But the elder Busch held off the advances of Stewart, who was eventually blocked in his pit by a spinning Robby Gordon and relegated to a spot deep in the field. Stewart showed true champion form in driving his way back to the front and resuming his battle with the No. 2 car...but unfortunately for both, Stewart would get loose in turn three—and when Busch bumped him, the two cars wound up in the wall and out of the race.
Kurt would lead the most laps, and he and Stewart would combine to head up 132 of the 200 laps.
The lead changed hands a number of times after that, with the Chevrolets continuing their dominance on the superspeedway. Only small wrecks of five cars or less marred what was otherwise a clean race. Mark Martin took the lead with 25 laps to go in the U.S. Army-sponsored Ginn Chevy, and was attempting to hold on for his first Daytona 500 win. The majority of incidents occurred in the final 50 laps of the race, and these would help keep Martin out front.
The final caution flew with five laps remaining as several cars got together on the back stretch. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was among the victims of this wreck, as was outside-pole sitter Ricky Rudd. Martin was in the lead at the time, and NASCAR red-flagged the race to allow for clean-up and a green-white-checker finish (a two-lap "overtime" that is intended to allow races to end under the green flag).
Kyle Busch restared on Martin's rear bumper, and was looking to be in position to make a last-lap pass after the green flag flew. But Kevin Harvick received a bump-draft on the back stretch, launching his No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevy to the outside lane. Kyle Busch tried in vain to block as Harvick drove around the outside of the No. 5 car. Busch dropped in line with Martin, whose car got loose going into turn three. Harvick had just nosed ahead off of turn four with Martin inside when disaster struck behind them: Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth turned sideways in front of the rest of the field, leaving a two-man race to the line.
Harvick would beat Martin by three feet—two-thousandths of a second—at the finish.
In a final bit of controversy, NASCAR did not throw the caution flag at the end of the race, which would have frozen the field at the last passed scoring loop and given Martin the win. The "Big One" threw the results into complete disarray, allowing several cars to make up positions as they avoided the wreck.
Clint Bowyer's No. 07 Jack Daniel's RCR Chevy wound up on its roof, sliding across the finish line 18th and on fire. The car righted itself in the grass, and Bowyer emerged unscathed.
Jeff Burton's Childress Racing entry crossed the line third, with Mike Wallace fourth and rookie David Ragan fifth in Mark Martin's old ride—best of the Roush team.
Elliott Sadler side-slammed Jeff Gordon into the wall in the crash but managed to cross the line sixth, with teammate Kasey Kahne seventh. This was somewhat of a redemption as both teams were penalized for rules infractions during qualifying last weekend. The strong finish will help offset the loss of points resulting from those penalties.
Pole-sitter David Gilliland, Joe Nemechek, and Jeff Gordon rounded out the top-ten.
Harvick's sweep of the Busch and Cup races marks only the fifth time in history the feat has been accomplished at Daytona. Other notables included Dale Jarrett finising 23rd in the highest-placing Toyota; Kyle Busch at 24th; Matt Kenseth at 27th; Dale Earnhardt, Jr. at 32nd; defending champion Jimmie Johnson at 39th; and Tony Stewart last at 43rd.
Stewart finished last in the 2002 Daytona 500 but raced his way back to win the Nextel Cup that season, proving that a poor finish doesn't ruin the year. The teams will pack up their battered machines, lick their wounds, and head home for a couple of days before shipping out for the California Speedway and next Sunday's Auto Club 500. In the meantime, Kevin Harvick and his crews will celebrate and savor their historic weekend sweep at Daytona.