DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 9, 2010) — Finishes don’t get much closer than the 2007 Daytona 500.
In fact, as the 2010 edition looms, only a handful are closer than that which separates 2007 Daytona 500 champion Kevin Harvick from second-place finisher Mark Martin.
Harvick’s .020-second margin of victory is NASCAR’s ninth-closest since the advent of electronic timing and scoring in May 1993. Ricky Craven’s epic March 2003 win over Kurt Busch at Darlington Raceway leads the list (.002 seconds).
You can’t blink that fast.
But decimal points only hint at drama. Harvick didn’t just swoop down on Martin at the last minute that day.
He rallied from 29th to first over the race’s final 20 laps.
As night blanketed Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 18, 2007, Harvick found himself up front with Martin, one of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ most respected, veteran competitors. Martin, trying to win his first Daytona 500 on his 23rd try, had dialed back to a part-time schedule for 2007, but “part time” hardly describes his or Harvick’s efforts that night.
Both dueled for the lead on their final sprint down the superspeedway’s backstretch, joined by then-second-year driver Clint Bowyer, one of Harvick’s Richard Childress Racing teammates, and another RCR teammate, Jeff Burton. Also in the mix: Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Greg Biffle.
Only Burton saw the finish.
Just behind the leaders, sheet metal touched, sparks flew and Kenseth, Biffle, Busch and Bowyer went for a spin. Blurred together, Martin and Harvick raced for the finish line, seemingly reaching it in tandem with Burton in tow and hundreds of media members springing to their feet in the press box.
Seconds later — Bowyer took the checkered flag on his roof, with flames spouting from the underside of his car. He was credited with an 18th-place finish on the lead lap.
The caution flag, which flew as Martin and Harvick bore down on Daytona’s finish line, added more sparks. Some media and garage pundits claimed Martin would’ve won had the flag flown a touch earlier, but the drama and the historical significance of Harvick’s win eclipsed controversy.
It was the first RCR victory at Daytona since Dale Earnhardt’s win in the 1998 Daytona 500, plus, the first since his death on a last-lap crash there in 2001. Harvick, who succeed Earnhardt at RCR, was not unaware.
"I got so excited at the end of the race, and I knew we had won," he said. "I just didn't realize how excited I was, and I punched the dang mirror out of the car. Just overexcited, I guess. Knocked the mirror right out."