Kevin Harvick won a wild Food City 500 at the Bristol Motor Speedway, driving from 43rd on the grid and passing the entire field on one of NASCAR's shortest circuits.

In a race where barely a dozen cars survived all 500 laps without running into an accident, Harvick scored his first win since the 2003 Brickyard 400 despite having his regular crew-chief, Todd Berrier, suspended.

Harvick, who was due to start 13th in his #29 Richard Childress Racing GM Goodwrench Chevrolet, suffered a last minute blow on Sunday morning when his RCR crew discovered a leak on his car, necessitating a change that, under NASCAR's impound rules, meant he would have to drop to the rear of the field.

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Quite amazingly Harvick went from last to first inside the opening 100 laps, taking top spot for the first time on lap 92 but, in a race filled with accidents and incidents, it wasn't until lap 433 of 500 that Harvick pulled ahead for good.

The win broke a year long winless streak for team boss Childress and went a long way towards silencing those who, at first criticised the team for not attending the pre-season test at Daytona, and then scorned at their attempt to cheat during Bud Pole qualifying three weeks ago in Las Vegas.

With stand-in crew chief Scott Miller calling the shots atop the pit box, Harvick managed to avoid a car-breaking 14 caution periods and survive a potentially costly loose lug nut issue during a yellow flag pit stop with 140 laps remaining.

After making his way back into the top three as the race entered its final 80 laps, Harvick then watched gleefully as second-placed Jimmie Johnson collided with the lapped car of Michael Waltrip before easily passing a grip-less Greg Biffle for the lead as the final 67 lap green lap segment got underway.

With Biffle, the only leading car not to take fresh tyres with 85 laps remaining, becoming an increasingly awkward roadblock for everyone else, Harvick sailed serenely into the middle distance. By the time the chequered flag waved, the Bakersfield, California native had opened up a lead nearly the length of the front stretch.

Behind Harvick, the shape of the top ten changed dramatically in the closing laps as several drivers lucky enough to avoid the early and mid-race carnage, heartbreakingly found themselves with tyre troubles within sight of the finish.

Bud Pole winner Elliott Sadler finished second; having battled passed Biffle a number of laps after Harvick accomplished the same feat. For the 2001 Food City 500, second is the best result of his season to date on a day where he led the first 30 laps and then focused on keeping his #38 Robert Yates Racing Ford out of trouble.

Third place seemed to be a curse in the final ten laps. First Matt Kenseth suffered a puncture, allowing Jeff Gordon to take the spot. Then Gordon also had a tyre go flat leaving a rather surprised Tony Stewart to take the position.

Only 100 laps earlier Stewart had been spinning around in turn three after contact with Rusty Wallace but 'Smoke' was able to pull off his second awesome save of the season (remember the Busch race in Daytona?). After a near-perfect 360-degree spin in the middle of Bristol's tight, 36 degree banked turns Stewart's car was undamaged and with only a dozen cars left on the lead lap, his subsequent pit stop for fresh tyres didn't loose him that much ground.

Dale Earnhardt Jr also kept his nose clean all day to take his best finish since Daytona with fourth place. Even though both he and Stewart failed to lead a lap all day, the rate of attrition virtually guaranteed the #8 DEI team a top finish even though they didn't have the ultimate pace of Harvick and the races other major players Wallace, Biffle and Johnson.

Johnson eventually finished sixth, behind Sadler's RYR teammate Dale Jarrett, with the handling of his #48 Hendrick Chevrolet damaged following his lap 420 collision with Waltrip.

The current series points leader was also involved in one of the most unsavoury looking incidents of the day, tapping the lapped car of Jeff Burton into a spin on the back straight with 140 laps to go. While Johnson continued unabated, Burton made hard contact with the inside wall before slewing back up the track, directly into the path of Kurt Busch.

The defending series champion hit the spinning car of Burton head-on in a crash that could have had far more severe consequences even just five years ago. Thanks to recent developments in head and neck restraints, plus the construction of the cars, both Busch and Burton walked away unhurt but were both out of the race.

A mere ten cars finished on the lead lap, largely thanks to a major 14 car pileup on lap 333 and a 100+ lap green flag stint between laps 192 and 300 although such was the level of destruction around the half-mile speed bowl, simply avoiding the accidents almost guaranteed a top ten finish.

Rookie Travis Kvapil finished a career best seventh after taking advantage of NASCAR's Free Pass ruling to regain a lost lap. Kyle Petty also made good use of the 'Lucky Dog' rule to score his first top ten finish in three years, passing the struggling Kenseth, Gordon and Biffle in the final ten laps to take eighth place.

Biffle, who was little more than a sitting duck after electing not to pit during either of the races final two caution periods, slithered home in ninth place, the #16 Roush Racing Ford becoming very unstable and slow in the last couple of laps.

With Gordon and Kenseth both making last minute green flag pit stops, a two-lap penalty at Bristol, Scott Riggs was the only other lead lap finisher, rounding out the top ten.

So what of everybody else?

Bristol expert Wallace led a race-high 157 laps in his penultimate start at the track where he has won nine times. However just after he began to report a loose condition and was passed for the lead by Kenseth on lap 264, the Penske Racing driver suffered a puncture and lost two laps to the leaders. Despite valiant efforts to regain the laps, Wallace finished 13th.

Gordon and Kenseth finished two and three laps down respectively in 15th and 16th, their late problems costing them fewer positions than would usually be expected to due to the fact that so few cars were left running competitively.

Just 21 cars finished within 30 laps of the leader with several of those, notably eleventh place finisher Sterling Marlin, 14th placed Kasey Kahne and 20th place finisher Dave Blaney, crossing the line with major sheet-metal damage.

The crashes came thick and fast in NASCAR's most notorious cauldron.

On lap two contact between Stewart and Kahne resulted in a chain reaction that left Hermie Sadler, Jason Leffler and Atlanta winner Carl Edwards with badly damaged machines. 20 laps later Casey Mears, Joe Nemechek and Kyle Busch were all caught up in a wreck triggered by minor contact between Busch and Nemechek.

Stanton Barrett's first start of the year ended with a brush with the turn one wall on lap 49, while Mike Bliss' great start to the year came to a smoky end in the turn one wall just 20 laps later in a crash also involving the younger of the two Busch brothers.

Ryan Newman and Ken Schrader touched in a crash that sent Newman nose first into the wall on lap 150 while a solid run from Jeff Green went south on lap 300 when he suffered a puncture and hit the wall, a fate later repeated by Kahne.

The biggest crash of the day occurred on lap 333 when Bobby Hamilton Jr tapped Schrader into a spin on the back straight shortly after a restart. With most of the lead lap cars behind the initial incident, carnage was inevitable.

Marlin, Kahne, Waltrip, Blaney and Wallace were all sucked into the mess, as were Ricky Rudd, Bobby Labonte, Mark Martin, Mike Wallace and Jamie McMurray although incredibly, only Hamilton Jr was eliminated on the spot.