Harvick swoops in late, steals '07 Daytona win from Martin
Mark Martin, the greatest NASCAR driver never to win the Daytona 500, was well on his way to winning the Great American Race in 2007. Then Kevin Harvick got in the way, writes Ryan McGee.
Updated: February 10, 2008, 7:19 PM ETBy Ryan McGee | ESPN The Magazine
It was going to be a decent day after all, crew chief Todd Berrier thought to himself.
Actually, it was night. The 2007 Daytona 500 was well into its third hour and headed into overtime, adding two laps to its standard 200 so the 185,000 fans in attendance and a TV audience of 20 million could have a green-white-checkered finish. That was fine by Berrier, whose No. 29 Shell Chevy was knocking on the door of a surprisingly solid top-10 finish. The Richard Childress Racing team had not had a Daytona Speedweeks to write home about. The No. 29 car in particular had been strangely slow for nine days, qualifying poorly and forced to start the race way back in 34th position. Not exactly the way you want to introduce the world to a new sponsor.When the car started showing some signs of life in Saturday's final practice session, someone was kind enough to inform driver Kevin Harvick that no one had ever won the Great American Race from as far back as 34th. His starting spot was, in fact, one position worse than the all-time record, set by Bobby Allison in 1978."Well," the man they call Happy replied with more than a little attitude, "good for Bobby."When the green flag dropped Feb. 18, Harvick made a first green-flag run that would have made Allison proud, jetting from 34th to 10th in the first 10 laps. By Lap 81, nearing the race's halfway point, he even slipped into the lead for three laps.But the unpredictable nature of restrictor-plate racing soon began tossing the No. 29 around like a beach ball. He fell as far back as 18th and climbed as high as fifth. By the race's end, NASCAR's laser-guided loop scoring system would record that Harvick had passed 244 cars and that 232 cars had passed him back.Thanks to the plate, that was pretty much the same story for every car in the field. Well, with at least one exception.Mark Martin had been trying to retire for five years. He'd even gone as far as to leave Roush Racing, where he'd become a living NASCAR legend, winning 35 Cup races and more Busch Series events than any other person who ever walked the face of the planet. Now he was behind the wheel of the No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet, a car owned by a team that had long been the lovable loser of stock car racing. Until the previous summer, it had been known as MB2 Motorsports, but now it was Ginn Racing, rejuvenated by new owner and golf resort guru Bobby Ginn.It was Ginn who had convinced 48-year-old Martin to jump in his ride, enticing him with an a la carte part-time schedule, a chance to work with a pack of young and hungry drivers and, oh yeah, a ton of cash.Few drivers have enjoyed the kind of respect and admiration of his peers Martin has. And not just his peers; he's one of the select handful of racers who has long been greeted with practically zero boos during the prerace popularity contest that is driver introductions. Since Dale Earnhardt's death and Rusty Wallace's retirement, Martin had become the go-to guy for career and driving advice for every young racer in the garage -- including Harvick. Yet despite all the accolades, all the race wins, all the IROC titles, Martin had resigned himself to his title of "best driver never to win a Cup championship."
AP Photo/David GrahamKevin Harvick, left, and Mark Martin race to the finish line at the 2007 Daytona 500.
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