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MOTOR RACING

Kevin Harvick comes through unscathed at Daytona

As wrecks knock out opponents, he pulls ahead just at the right time to win the Budweiser Shootout.

February 08, 2009|Tania Ganguli

DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. — Kevin Harvick is making a habit of winning races at Daytona as the field wrecks behind him.

As Casey Mears, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson twisted and turned into clouds of smoke, Harvick pushed past race leader Jamie McMurray. He won Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout, a race that had a record eight cautions, a record 14 leaders and a record 23 lead changes. Harvick pulled ahead at just the right time for his first victory in a year and a half. It was also Harvick's first victory in the season-opening exhibition race.

"I haven't done this in a while," Harvick said.

He hadn't. His last win was in the 2007 All-Star race. His only other win that season came in the Daytona 500, a race in which Harvick beat out Mark Martin as the field wrecked behind him.

McMurray finished second and Tony Stewart was third in his debut in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet.

"Wasn't the prettiest third place," Stewart said. "But we were in the right spot at the right time."

McMurray pulled into the lead on Lap 66 and held onto it through the final laps.

He blocked Johnson as the three-time defending series champion tried to get around him. He zoomed ahead of Harvick, who chased his tail. Then McMurray got a little too far ahead as a fleet of Chevrolets trailed him.

And the worst thing that could've happened to his chances did. With three laps to go, a caution came out and McMurray was doomed.

McMurray never wrecked, which he thought he might. But more than half the field wasn't so lucky. Fifteen cars finished at least one lap down.

The wrecks began early as cars had trouble handling. With no testing in the off-season, Friday's practices were the first time any Cup cars had been on the track together.

By Lap 5, both rookies, Joey Logano and Scott Speed, were wrecked out of the race.

Logano and Speed wrecked on Lap 4 when Robby Gordon's No. 7 Dodge got in the back of David Ragan's No. 6 Ford and Ragan wobbled around the track. Logano's car shot all the way up the track and smashed into the outside wall.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. led four times for 23 laps, more laps than anyone, but slipped with about 15 laps to go. On Lap 64 of the 75-lap race, Earnhardt was swept into a wreck with pole-sitter Paul Menard and Bobby Labonte.

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tganguli@orlandosentinel.com

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