Kevin Harvick pulled off the consummate possum act to come from nowhere to win Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout at Daytona International Speedway.
Running at the tail end of the field after minor damage during the early stages of the race, Harvick drafted past Jamie McMurray entering turn three on the last lap of a green-white-chequered-flag finish.
Moments after the pass, a wreck behind the leaders brought out the eighth caution of the evening and froze the field, giving Harvick the victory in the non-points season opener for NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series.
"We came in and put tyres on [on lap 66]," Harvick said, "I got a little bit behind there early. Michael Waltrip had a flat tyre [on lap 42], and I lost the draft. I just came back up through there, and I was thinking that I won the Daytona 500 [in 2007] this exact same way, just never giving up.
"I got squeezed up into the wall there [in the first 25-lap segment], and it knocked the left front fender off, and they repaired the left front fender, the right front fender and the right side during the break [between the 25- and 50-lap segments]. It just seemed like I was in the wrong spot for the whole race, and then at the end wound up being at right place at the right time and had a good car to go with it."
This was the first Shootout held under new eligibility criteria, with seven cars representing each of the four Sprint Cup manufacturers Chevrolet, Ford, Dodge and Toyota. Led by Harvick's #29, Chevy captured three of the top four positions, with Tony Stewart - in his first race as an owner/driver for Stewart-Haas Racing - and Jeff Gordon third and fourth behind Harvick and the Ford-driving McMurray.
With 28 cars in the field - the largest ever to start the race - fans saw 14 different leaders, 23 lead changes and eight cautions, all race records. AJ Allmendinger was fifth in his first run in the #44 Richard Petty Motorsports Dodge. Kasey Kahne (Dodge), Carl Edwards (Ford), Kurt Busch (Dodge), Matt Kenseth (Ford) and Kyle Busch (Toyota) completed the top ten.
Polesitter Paul Menard's Ford got loose in turn four on lap 64 and ignited a four-car wreck that eliminated last year's Shootout winner - and self-confessed favourite for Saturday - Dale Earnhardt Jr, while Bobby Labonte's Ford also was damaged in the crash, along with the Ford of Greg Biffle.
McMurray held the lead for a restart on lap 69 and was out front when David Stremme's Dodge slipped up the track and turned Biffle in turn four on lap 73 to bring out the seventh caution of the race. That set up the green-white-chequered-flag finish that took the race three laps beyond its scheduled 75.
"It was crazy," Gordon concluded, "It was absolutely madness out there."by Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service