DAYTONA BEACH — Kevin Harvick spent most of the Bud Shootout watching the field vanish in the distance on Saturday night. He spent the last half lap watching it disappear in his mirror.
The 2007 Daytona 500 winner overcame a brush with the wall and two bent fenders on his No. 29 Chevrolet that ruined his handling in the fickle aerodynamic draft Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway. After an evening of trying to catch back up to the pack of cars ahead, he won NASCAR's season-opening non-points dash for the first time in a green-white-checkered finish.
Harvick began the final restart fourth and used a push from Denny Hamlin on the backstretch to make a move leader Jamie McMurray couldn't block. The burst was oddly similar to Harvick's winning move two years ago in the 500 on Mark Martin, even more so when an accident behind him froze the field and awarded him the victory, his first in 71 events since the 2007 all-star race.
Harvick led one lap. Most of one, certainly enough of one, at least.
"We always seem to get there just in the nick of time," he said.
Tony Stewart was third in his first race for his new Stewart Haas Racing team, followed by Jeff Gordon and A.J. Allmendinger.
McMurray, who won the 2007 Pepsi 400, darted in front of Jimmie Johnson on Lap 64 to take the lead as the yellow flag waved for an accident involving two-time winner and defending champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Greg Biffle. McMurray held the lead through the seventh caution in the scheduled 75-lap event when Biffle and David Stremme were involved in an incident in the tri-oval.
McMurray, who led 16 laps, sorted through the disappointment to find consolation in a sound first performance since being reunited with crew chief Donnie Wingo. But he admitted this one stung a little.
"I saw (Harvick) coming, I moved up and I thought I was high enough," he said. "I didn't think there was room between him and the wall, and he just snuck in there. You feel like a sucker when you're in the front of this deal."
This Shootout was unique with changes to the field size, composition and race length. Then there was the intensity. The first event of Speedweeks has always caused a certain angst, but Harvick said an offseason devoid of testing — because of NASCAR's moratorium — made it a spigot for bottled energies. The subsequent spate of cautions, along with some deft riveting and fender-hammering during a mandated 10-minute intermission session after the first 25 laps, helped the cause immensely, crew chief Todd Berrier said.
"You knew the way they were beating and banging, there were going to be cautions to catch us back up," he said.
Just in the nick of time.