TWO LAPS remained in the 49th Daytona 500, and the cars were parked on the backstretch, the race red-flagged after another in a series of late-race crashes. From pit road Richard Childress, 61, the owner of Richard Childress Racing, gazed through the night at his number 29 Chevy, driven by Kevin Harvick—the man he had handpicked six years before to replace his close friend, the late Dale Earnhardt Sr.—who was in sixth place.
All of Childress's Daytona memories—good and bad—ran through his mind. He recalled 1998, the year Earnhardt won the Great American Race for the first time in 20 tries, prompting the Big E to scream, "I just won the Daytona Fi-i-i-i-ive Hun-n-n-n-dred!" as he crossed the finish line. And Childress thought about 2001, six years ago to the day, when Earnhardt died in a crash on the last turn of the last lap. Now Harvick was poised to do something that was positively Earnhardtesque.
On the restart Mark Martin expertly blocked Kyle Busch for a lap. Down the final backstretch, Harvick, now seventh, slammed into the rear of Mike Wallace. The bump-draft rocketed Wallace and Harvick forward. Harvick bolted to the high line, passing Wallace into Turn 3. Matt Kenseth fell in behind Harvick, giving him desperately needed drafting help, which pushed Harvick even with Martin through the final turn.
Then all hell broke loose behind them. Busch spun and bounced off a half dozen cars. Clint Bowyer's Chevy flipped and slid down the track on its roof. But Harvick kept his foot to the floor, and about 200 yards before the finish line inched ahead of Martin, beating him to the checkered flag by .020 of a second. Childress raised his arms as Harvick crossed the line. In his headset the owner heard his driver yell seven words that took Childress's breath away: "I just won the Daytona Fi-i-i-i-ive Hun-n-n-n-dred!"
From SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, February 26, 2007