Daytona 500 insider (cont.)
3. Kevin Harvick changed the outcome of this race. During two green-white-checkered restarts, Harvick was what's called the "pusher" in the draft: The guy responsible for helping the car in front get up to speed. And both times, he made moves that ultimately paved the way for Jamie McMurray's victory. Some quick analysis:
On restart #1 (Lap 199), Harvick was in fourth, causing leader Clint Bowyer to choose the outside line for the No. 29 to push him through. Tucked together like a "choo-choo" train, the move worked like a charm, putting them 1-2 down the back straightaway and in position to settle things amongst themselves.
But Harvick failed to stay glued to his teammate's back bumper, and by the time the caution came a few seconds later, Harvick/Bowyer had fallen back to third and fifth, respectively. That launched a profanity-laced tirade by Bowyer on the radio, claiming Harvick's tactics almost forced them three-wide and killed a chance for the win.
Too bad that was just the tip of the iceberg, as Harvick's craziest move came during the ensuing restart. Coming to the line in 5th, he dove under his teammate, disposing of him and Greg Biffle ahead to enter the turn second behind Martin Truex. The NAPA Toyota tried to block, but Harvick's front fender won that battle, tapping his rear bumper in a move Truex called "dirty" over the radio. Still, the move left Harvick in front and seemingly in control to win his second 500 in three years.
Yet those battle scars came back to bite his Chevy once the caution flew once again, setting up a final restart that left eventual winner McMurray in second and the Ford of Carl Edwards in third. When the cars came up to speed, McMurray took off while Harvick failed to make a love connection with Edwards, dropping back to seventh by the finish after getting hung out to dry.
"I just wish we had somebody behind us who knew how to draft," Harvick said afterward, taking a public swipe at Edwards. But in the end, it was Harvick who probably made more people mad than anybody else.
4. The new plate racing rules worked like a charm. With a larger restrictor plate putting the focus on handling, not horsepower, this 500 turned into one of the most competitive in recent years. Most importantly, the rules stretched out the field on several occasions, minimizing the threat of the Big One that never came. "There was a ton of bumping out there, and I never felt once anybody was looking over my shoulder," said Earnhardt. "Everybody took care of everybody, as far as I know."
"I felt like we could push and shove more," added third-place runner Biffle. "The grip level is about perfect."
There were still a handful of isolated incidents at the track, but nothing too serious or involving more than a half-dozen cars. Considering the last three plate races have seen a driver flip or land on his roof, everyone can be thankful for that.
5. For Jamie McMurray, it's great to be home. Sunday set another record for the 500: The fewest laps led for any Daytona winner. McMurray paced the field for only the final two laps, but that was enough to put the underdog first in his No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet.
It was the culmination of an awesome Speedweeks for McMurray, who finished third in the Bud Shootout and a solid sixth in the Gatorade Duel. In between was consistent praise for crew chief Kevin Manion, with both claiming the chemistry immediately clicked in their first few weeks of working together.
"[Kevin] has been one of the best surprises for me coming back," McMurray said Sunday night. "We have a lot in common. Close in age, same personalities. He's a racer." The trust between them was crucial Sunday, when Manion left him out on the track while other drivers came down pit road for fresh rubber on Lap 196. The gamble paid off, with McMurray able to use his drafting skills to blow by the competition and come from 7th to 1st in that final stretch -- causing the biggest outburst of tears in Victory Lane since Jeff Gordon won for the first time at Charlotte in 1994.
"I don't know that I've cried like that," McMurray said, breaking down several more times in the media center. "It just means so much."
The win puts the perfect final touch on a homecoming for the 33-year-old, signed for a second stint with Chip Ganassi in November. The duo had success together from 2002 to '05, and is poised to contend for the Chase once again. But the crazy thing about it all -- the signing almost didn't happen. Executives at Ganassi's sponsor, Bass Pro Shops, were concerned McMurray (not exactly an avid outdoorsman) wouldn't be the perfect fit for their company.
You wonder how they feel now that their driver has won the Daytona 500.