Kevin Harvick the final driver to win on the current asphalt of Daytona in the Coke Zero 400.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Kevin Harvick in the No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet outdueled Kasey Kahne to the line by .092 seconds to capture a nail-biting green-white-checkered finish in Saturday night’s 52nd annual Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola at historic Daytona International Speedway.
“This has been a great place for us,” said Harvick, who picked up his fifth win at the “World Center of Racing” and became the eighth driver to win the race from the pole.
Harvick also holds the distinction of being the last driver to win on the current asphalt. Daytona International Speedway will be repaved for only the second time in history beginning Monday, July 5.
“Daytona has been one of those magical places for us since we started coming here,” Harvick said. “I don’t really care about the trophy. I want some of that pavement from the start/finish line out there. This is pretty cool.”
Rounding out the top five were Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton, respectively.
“I got behind Harvick and I thought that would be the spot,” said Kahne who posted his best finish ever on the 2.5-mile tri-oval. “I was watching Jeff (Gordon) because I knew he would be coming and would be quick. It would have been nice to get our Budweiser Ford in Victory Lane.”
With a third-place finish, three-time Daytona 500 champion Jeff Gordon moved to second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings, 212 points behind Harvick.
“It’s been a while since we’ve finished one of these races,” Gordon said. “I got some good runs there at the end and I was trying to push Clint Bowyer. I don’t know if he was riding the brakes or what was going on with him. Finally I said, ‘We’ve got to go; you’re killing me’. I got a run around him and got up to Kasey and was trying to get him to Kevin. It was a great top-three finish for us.”
Rain delayed the start of the mid-summer classic and a red flag delayed the finish for 19:34 due to a 19-car incident in Turn 3.
Gordon kept his No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet in the top 10 for most of the race and made his move with five laps to go. He took the lead from Bowyer with ease, but Bowyer and Richard Childress Racing teammate Harvick fought back. With the white flag in their sights, a three-car wreck behind the leaders brought out the caution and set up a green-white-yellow finish.
On the restart, Harvick took the lead with Gordon, Bowyer and Kahne scrambling behind him. Bowyer spun on the backstretch, but there was no caution. Just after taking the checkered flag, the seventh- and ninth- place cars of Kurt Busch and Mike Bliss got together bringing out the caution as the remaining drivers of the 43-car field finished the race.
A race record 18 drivers exchanged the lead 47 times, besting the previous record of 15 drivers in 2006 and coming up just shy of the long-standing record for lead changes of 49 dating back to ¬¬1974. Race-winner Harvick led eight times for a race-high 28 of the 166 laps.
Reigning Daytona 500 champion Jamie McMurray had to retire the No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet after being caught up in the fifth caution of the day and finished 38th.
Bobby Labonte, making his 600th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start in the No. 09 car, served as Grand Marshal and finished 16th.
Darius Rucker, Captiol Recording Artist and the Country Music Association’s Best New Artist of 2009, performed a 60-minute pre-race concert and the National Anthem. During pre-race celebrations, DIS continued the tradition started by Bill France Sr. and paid tribute to six Medal of Honor recipients.
Tickets to Speedweeks 2011, including the 53rd annual Daytona 500, are available online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com
or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.