TALLADEGA, Ala. — Kevin Harvick executed the pass exactly how his team drew it up.
With a last-second slingshot move past Jamie McMurray, Harvick ended a 115-race winless drought with a victory Sunday in the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway. It was the payoff for perfect strategy devised in conversations over the weekend with crew chief Gil Martin and their Richard Childress Racing team.
Harvick lurked behind in traffic, trying to move to second place by the closing laps. His plan was to set up for one attempt at the lead, which he made roughly 500 yards from the finish by sliding inside of McMurray, then racing him to the checkered flag.
"We made a plan, and I'm telling you, every piece of it played out exactly how we wanted to play it," Harvick said. "Coming into the last lap, that's exactly how we planned it out on paper."
The win was Harvick's first since the 2007 season-opening Daytona 500, and it came in the longest Talladega race in Cup history. Because NASCAR's new rule allows for three attempts at its version of overtime, the race went 12 laps past the scheduled 188 trips around the 2.66-mile track.
It covered a record 88 lead changes among a record 29 drivers, and the final pass was the one that had everyone talking.
"I hate to show my age, but that was a tremendous pass just like the old days, like you would have seen Buddy Baker or Cale Yarborough," 51-year-old driver Mark Martin said.
Harvick had rehearsed his move several times during the weekend, knowing what he'd do and where on the track he'd do it if in position to win.
"He made the move to the outside and I jerked left, so I was going the opposite way that he was going," he said.
McMurray, this year's Daytona 500 winner after also claiming the November race at Talladega, couldn't hide his disappointment at misplaying the final half-lap. Seeking his third consecutive restrictor-plate win, he held the bottom line, certain that Harvick's attempt to pass would be outside.
"I really thought that Kevin was going to go high," McMurray said after settling for second. "I felt like I was close enough to the yellow line that there was a lot more racetrack to the right. … It's hard to explain to you guys that aren't in cars, but when there's someone directly behind you and they pull their car out of line really fast, it's like you pull a parachute in your car.
"It literally feels like you lose 3 or 5 miles an hour immediately, and when that happens, the car that's doing the passing just has the momentum."
The margin of victory of 0.011 seconds was the eighth-closest in NASCAR since it began using electronic scoring in 1993.
Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson tangled on the track for the second consecutive race. Gordon said Johnson squeezed him down the track late in the race, triggering a crash that took Gordon out of contention.
Johnson was later involved in his own accident, tangling with Greg Biffle on the second attempt at overtime and going hard into the inside retaining wall.
That set up the third and final "green-white-checkered" finish. Before this season, NASCAR made one attempt at a two-lap sprint to the finish. The week of this year's season opener, though, NASCAR decided it would allow up to three attempts to finish under green.
That tweak cost Harvick the Daytona 500 but benefited him Sunday. The three restarts gave him the chance to slice his way from seventh on the first attempt to fifth on the second to third on the final restart.
Harvick's celebration was a short one. Because rain postponed the Nationwide race Saturday, he had to hustle to run another 312 miles. He was joined in the Aaron's 312 by nine other Cup drivers, including McMurray.
They almost finished 1-2 again in that race, but McMurray, trying to squeeze in behind Harvick in a tight pack, triggered a last-lap crash that sent Dennis Setzer's car airborne. Brad Keselowski won, and Harvick settled for third, McMurray 14th.
Setzer, who later said he emerged okay, hit the safety fence and his car was on fire as it skidded down the track. It was similar to last year's Cup race at Talladega when Carl Edwards sailed into the fence, allowing Keselowski to win.
Keselowski was in the late wreck in the Cup race, sending his carbon monoxide level soaring past NASCAR's limit to drive.
But after breathing with an oxygen mask between events, he received clearance. "We caught the right breaks (Sunday)," he said.