Jamie McMurray won the 52nd running of the Daytona 500, in what turned into a stock car racing mini-series in three parts on Sunday afternoon and evening.

The adrenalin rush of the final two laps - the second attempt at a green-white-chequered finish under rules implemented by NASCAR before Thursday's Gatorade Duels - all but erased the frustration of almost two-and-a-half hours of stoppages as track workers at Daytona International Speedway repaired potholes in the asphalt between turns one and two. The first red-flag period lasted an hour and 40 minutes, while the second cost another 44 minutes.

McMurray, celebrating his reunion with owner Chip Ganassi with a victory in the first race of their second tenure together, crossed the finish line 0.119secs ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr, who surged from the pack to chase McMurray to the stripe on lap 208, eight laps beyond the scheduled distance. Three of McMurray's four victories have now come on restrictor-plate racetracks, and his victory is the ninth in a row for a different winner at the 500.

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McMurray spun his tyres on the restart on lap 207, but got a push down the frontstretch and through the first turn from third-place finisher Greg Biffle. Securing the top spot from Kevin Harvick on the backstretch, McMurray led the final two laps. Those were the only laps he led, the lowest total for a Daytona 500 winner. The race featured 21 different leaders, with McMurray the 21st - a record for the Daytona 500 and a record for the speedway, while the 52 lead changes were third most for the race.

"Oh, my God!" he screamed after taking the chequered flag, before later having to fight back the tears, "I can't freaking believe it right now. Thank you so much. I can't believe we just won the Daytona 500."

Although he won one race last season at Roush Fenway Racing, he struggled in his final year there and was the odd man out from his team's NASCAR-mandated reduction from five teams to four.

"It's a dream - it really is," he admitted, "To be where I was last year, and for [sponsor Bass Pro Shops owner] Johnny Morris, Chip and [co-owner] Felix [Sabates] to take a chance on me and let me come back..... what a way to pay them back."

Clint Bowyer, who led 37 laps, finished fourth, followed by David Reutimann. Martin Truex Jr, Harvick, 2009 winner Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Juan Pablo Montoya completed the top ten.

An accident on lap 194 involving Elliott Sadler, Ryan Newman and Travis Kvapil set up a succession of three two-lap dashes. Caution interrupted the first on lap 199 when Bill Elliott, Joey Logano and Boris Said crashed in turn three, with Biffle less than a mile from what would have been his first Daytona 500 victory.

NASCAR's rules require the race leader take the white flag and start the final lap under green before the race can end - unless three attempts at a green-white-chequered-flag finish are exhausted.

The field failed to make it to the white flag under green on a restart on lap 203, because NASCAR called a caution for a wreck off turn two involving Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart, Robert Richardson and Jeff Gordon and, by then, McMurray had rocketed to second position behind Harvick and restarted next to the Shootout winner on lap 207. Ironically, the push from Biffle then gave him the edge he needed to win the race.

Not that McMurray didn't have a moment of panic, however. When he saw Earnhardt in his mirror in turn three of the final lap, he exclaimed "No!", but Earnhardt didn't have time to make a move for the win.

"It was all a blur - I was just going wherever they weren't," Earnhardt said of the closing laps, "I really don't enjoy being that aggressive but, if there was enough room for the radiator to fit, you just kind of held the gas down and prayed for the best.

"It was a lot of fun. It went by so fast, I couldn't really tell you the process, but I just remember going down the back straightaway and getting in between Greg and... I don't remember who was on the outside of me. We all kind of wiggled through that whole deal, but Jamie got away from us.

"I didn't even know where I was. Then we got into turn three, and I was counting in my head how many laps we ran. I knew we were coming to the chequered, and I was running second. This is awesome - but it kind of sucks at the same time. It was frustrating to come that close. But, hell, we were running 22nd at the first green-white-chequered!"

Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus, meanwhile, showed that they are human after all. Because of a succession of tyre problems, the #48 team began the defence of its fourth straight Cup championship with a 35th-place finish, his worst start to a season since posting a 39th-place result in the 2007 Daytona 500.

The extraordinary length of the race also took its toll on Kurt Busch, whose #2 Dodge was set up to run in daylight. Nevertheless, it was a four-tyre call late in the race that really hurt, dropping him to 23rd at the finish.

There was better news for Scott Speed, however, who led twelve laps on old tyres late in the race, holding off a line of drivers who had pitted for fresh rubber. In 40 previous races, Speed had led a total of 21 laps.

by Reid Spencer / Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service