Kevin Harvick started up front and finished up front in Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway, but what happened in between was a maelstrom of frenetic racing after a series of late-race accidents.
Streaking into the lead on the first lap of a green-white-checkered-finish, Harvick held off Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win the rain-delayed Cup Series race.
With more than half the field eliminated or hobbled by a series of spectacular accidents, Harvick crossed the finish line a car-length ahead of Kahne and solidified his hold on the top spot in the Cup standings.
Jeff Burton ran fifth, followed by Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch, Reed Sorenson, Mike Bliss and Scott Speed.
The victory was Harvick's second of the season and the 13th of his career. Gordon moved to second in the standings, 212 points behind Harvick. Earnhardt's fourth-place result put him back inside the top 12 with eight races left before the Chase field is set Sept. 11 at Richmond.
Contact from Sam Hornish Jr. sent teammate Kurt Busch into the Turn 4 wall on Lap 159 to set up the two-lap dash to the finish.
Even with his sizable points lead, Harvick wasn't ready to say he should be favored to dethrone four-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson.
"I think until somebody beats him -- until we get to Homestead [the season finale] and that happens, he's still the guy to beat," Harvick said. "For us, we've got to keep working hard. We're in a fortunate position with the start to our season, and we've got to keep working on our cars and trying to make things better, and hopefully, when the stress starts with 10 weeks to go, we'll be as ready as we've ever been."
NASCAR red-flagged the race for more than 20 minutes with 12 laps remaining after a colossal 20-car chain-reaction collision in Turn 3 strewed debris all over the race track. Mark Martin's Chevrolet sustained the most spectacular damage, with the driver of the No. 5 bringing his flaming car to pit road before members of Jimmie Johnson's crew helped him escape from the car.
Among those whose winning chances were destroyed in the wreck were Johnson, Tony Stewart, Juan Montoya, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Newman.