Harvick passes plate test at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Kevin Harvick's midnight ride into the Fourth of July wasn't the latest night win in a summer race here, but it was the best late show.

Harvick won the rain- and wreck-delayed Coke Zero 400 nearly an hour earlier than Tony Stewart's 1:45 a.m. win here in 2005.

But Stewart dominated that race. This time, Harvick had to work for it and make a show of it by deserting teammate and drafting partner Clint Bowyer in the lurch of the green-white-checkered overtime.

The final restart "wasn't the situation we wanted to be in," Harvick said early Sunday in Victory Lane. "I wanted to be behind him and be able to push him, because it was working pretty good for us."

Pretty unstoppable, he could have said. Just before the caution came out, just shy of the white flag of regulation, Harvick had pushed Bowyer past leader Jeff Gordon so powerfully that they left Gordon dwindling in their mirrors.

"Then we had to split up because of the double-file restarts," Harvick said.

That is, they had to race each other side by side. Harvick hated it, but, hey, adios.

"It was every man for himself at that point," Harvick said. "You know the guys behind you are going to push you as hard as they can. So if I'd slowed down to let him in or something like that, it would have just given the other line more momentum. At that point you just hope your line goes faster than the other line.

"Tonight we were in the right line, on the bottom," Harvick continued, "and it wound up working out."

Kasey Kahne was the one who gave Harvick the winning push out front of Bowyer on the final restart. Gordon tried to give Bowyer a push in the other lane, but Bowyer couldn't make anything of it.

All Kahne knew in the final frenzy was that "I was just pushing the 29. That was my only choice.

"I never had a chance to pass the 29, so I just kept pushing him," Kahne said, and it netted him a second-place finish.

Said Gordon, who wound up third: "I was pushing the 33 [Bowyer], and we had a great start. I gave him a big shove."

Trouble was, "I think maybe he was afraid he got too big of a shove or something," Gordon said. "He seemed to let off the gas or get on the brakes. I hit him again."

Finally, "I needed to go," Gordon said, "so I went to the outside of him. When I went to the outside, the 29 and the 9 pretty much just cruised on by."

And that was that, for the last race on the battered, worn, 31-year-old pavement of Daytona International Speedway. A massive $20 million repaving job will begin next week.

If they give away chunks of the old surface, "I want a piece of that start-finish line," Harvick said.

Harvick is now 2-for-2 with the reinstituted spoilers on restrictor-plate tracks. He won the first one, at Talladega, back in April.

Tonight we were in the right line, on the bottom, and it wound up working out.

-- Kevin Harvick

Although Bowyer wrecked in the final scramble and wound up 17th, the evening was a massive display of plate-racing firepower for the resurgent Richard Childress Racing.

For much of the evening, Harvick, Bowyer and Jeff Burton all ran together in the top 10, sometimes even the top 5. Burton finished fifth, just behind Dale Earnhardt Jr., who afterward called himself "lucky" to slip into a fourth-place finish.

"We were terrible all night," Earnhardt said. "We were real lucky."

The race started 85 minutes late because of an intermittent drizzle throughout the early evening. So it was fully a night race, no twilight about it.

Loose as the cars were on the battered old surface, the consequences of the draft didn't really get weird until only 56 laps remained.

That's when Kyle Busch, leading and having displayed one of the strongest cars of the evening, was turned 90 degrees hard right, and into the wall, by Juan Pablo Montoya.

Out of his car, watching the replay, told that Montoya had said on the radio that Busch came up on him, Busch cracked, "Yeah, I guess it's my fault."

What happened, he said, was that "I'm going down the straightaway as straight as I can and -- yeah, I guess I turned right across the nose of the 42 for nothing to do. Yeah, I wanted to wreck myself.

"No, actually, what happens that nobody understands in these things [on the almost gripless surface, in the draft] is when you're beside somebody like that they can move you, they have control of your car. He was too close to my side and started turning me sideways down the straightaway without even touching me. Just like I did to Denny [Hamlin, his teammate, during practice Thursday].

The drafting treachery was exacerbated "when you have no grip in your tires -- I was two laps away from pitting on old tires, and I was lapping the 42," Busch said. "The air on both our cars just started steering me right, right across the nose of his car.

"I mean, I didn't turn across the nose of the 42. Why would I do that? Why would I wreck myself, leading the race, in the fastest car, going to win this race -- you know?"

The massive pileup drivers call the "big one" came late, with just 12 laps to go, but it was a big one's big one, with 19 cars involved. Jimmie Johnson got caught up in the crash, ending his shot at three consecutive wins on the Cup tour.

"We came close. I mean, 380-something miles of not having the big one," Johnson said wryly, "and it all came down at the end."

Mark Martin's car caught fire, but "the fire was outside; it wasn't inside -- no big deal," Martin said as he left the infield medical center uninjured.

The melee started when Burton and Kurt Busch made contact, and in a split second cars were wrecking four wide, all the way across the track, with more cars sliding in waves into the moving wall of wreckage.

That brought out a red flag, and the cars parked with 12 laps left. The red lasted nearly 20 minutes, pushing the finish of the race into Sunday morning.

Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at edward.t.hinton@espn.com.