How the race was won
Harvick A late wreck set up a green-white-checkered finish, with Mark Martin preparing to battle against the likes of Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle and David Gilliland. Kevin Harvick, in fact, wasn't even in the top five, but the two-lap dash to the finish left just enough time for Harvick to charge on the outside and edge Martin for the win.
Story of the race
Harvick's win or Martin's loss. Take your pick. Both emotional – clearly for different reasons.
Then-leaders Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch taking each other out. Yes, the big multi-car crashes came later, but the Stewart-Busch wreck, in a sense, truly was this plate race's Big One. It completely changed the complexion of the race.
Give 'em credit
Harvick and the 29 team. So much of success on plate tracks has to do with being in the right place at the right time, and Harvick was able to work his way back through the field and into position to challenge for the win. And don't forget about Harvick's Busch win.
Martin. Some pit strategy helped get him to the front late, and he very nearly stayed there. Let the questions about running full-time this year increase in volume and frequency.
Gilliland. Quite simply an outstanding run – one which included an impressive comeback.
The rest of the top 10 or 15, the guys who also managed to put themselves in the right place at the right time. This includes the likes Jeff Burton, Elliott Sadler and Kasey Kahne (sans team directors), etc., and especially surprises like Mike Wallace and David Ragan.
Jack Sprague coming out on top in an amazing finish to the Craftsman Truck race.
What were they thinking?
Stewart and Busch early in the race. Busch was blocking like a madman but complaining that Stewart was out of control. Really, both probably were racing far too hard that early in the race. Ironically, they were battling relatively clean when they wrecked each other later on. Busch did take the blame for this one (nice gesture), though it really wasn't entirely his fault. Really, as they say, just one of them racin' deals.
The caution – or initial lack thereof – at the end of the race. It was a tough call that would merit criticism either way. Ultimately, NASCAR probably (but not certainly) got it right in initially holding off on throwing the yellow, though that seemingly flies in the face of its own rules. So either the call was wrong, or the rules are.
Drivers who cause wrecks usually end up here, but most of Sunday's incident-starters or continuers (Dave Blaney, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth-Jamie McMurray) were more victims of circumstance than anything else.
Better luck next time
Stewart Stewart – who staged a heck of a comeback – and Kurt Busch. That could have been an epic battle to the finish. And while there is no guarantee Stewart would have won, he did have the potential to turn in one of the most dominant Speedweeks performances in recent Daytona history.
Kyle Busch. He ran an outstanding race and deserved better.
Toyota. No cars in the top 20 in its first race. Not a great start, but the real tests come in the next two races as the Cup circuit heads to California and Las Vegas.
All others caught up in those last couple of wrecks, including Martin Truex Jr., Ricky Rudd, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kenseth, Biffle, McMurray and a slew of others. Tough to have it going for 175-plus laps, only to be taken out late. That's the price of excitement in plate racing.
By the way …
Are restrictor plate races the most exciting on the circuit or the most ridiculous? Yes. It's impossible not to feel bad for the drivers who were taken out in plate-wreck style after running strong races, but it's also impossible to think the finish of Sunday's race was anything less than spectacular. There are pros and cons to restrictor plate racing; it just becomes a matter of hoping the former outweighs the latter. And when it does, these races may be the best NASCAR has to offer.
Plate races also make for interesting bedfellow. Kyle Busch abandoning his brother but helping him later, Stewart and Kurt Busch battling hard but then conspiring to pit together, former Roush teammates being in position to help Martin – it all just adds to the drama.
Grading the race
This one wasn't all that exciting early, partly because of the long green runs and the building dominance of Stewart and Kurt Busch. It's somewhat ironic that wrecks can ruin days for good cars but also crank up the excitement meter a couple of levels. Again, there's that trade-off, though this race perhaps had one wreck too many toward the end. Still, it was a great finish, with a bunch of cars having a shot at winning. Problem was, some drivers who should have been in the mix weren't. And, almost appropriately, the race ended with a fantastic two-car battle (good) and a big wreck behind them (bad). Despite its shortcomings, this Daytona 500 will be remembered most for the Harvick-Martin battle at the end – and that's not such a bad thing. Grade: B+
From the source
Kevin Harvick: "It's just hard to put into words. … Just [the] Daytona 500, it's hard to believe."
Mark Martin: "I didn't ask for a win in the Daytona 500, I asked for a chance. Those guys gave me exactly what I asked for, and I let it slip away, slip through my fingers – and I'm fine with that. I did my best."