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Harvick ends winless streak with Talladega victory

Kevin Harvick celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Aaron's 499 auto race at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Ala., Sunday, April 25, 2010. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Kevin Harvick celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Aaron's 499 auto race at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Ala., Sunday, April 25, 2010. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Kevin Harvick had the last laugh in the best place, Victory Lane, with an overdue but well-timed celebration.

Harvick used a last-second pass of Jamie McMurray to snap a 115-race winless streak Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, where he closed out a dramatic week for his race team. Shell Oil Company told Richard Childress Racing this week it was moving its sponsorship at the end of the season, pushing the organization into a search for the funding neccessary to sign Harvick to a contract extension.

Harvick, who won the 2007 season-opening Daytona 500 in his first race with Shell, couldn't help but delight at the timing.

"I think it's great karma with everything that has happened this week with the sponsor," he said with a sly smile. "I think it's kind of funny in itself. I think, all in all, it was really good for our team, good for all the cars that have been running well all year and we've been really close to winning races.

"But the karma thing is the best part."

Harvick did it with a sling-shot pass that he devised in conversations over the weekend with crew chief Gil Martin and their RCR team.

Harvick lurked behind in traffic, trying to move his way into second place as the race hit the closing laps. His plan was to set himself up for one attempt at the lead, which he made roughly 500 yards from the finish line by sliding inside of McMurray then drag-racing him to the checkered flag.

"We made a plan, and I'm telling you, every piece of it played out exactly how we wanted to play it," Harvick said. "Coming into the last lap, that's exactly how we planned it out on paper."

The win came in the longest Talladega race in Sprint Cup history. Because NASCAR's new overtime rule allows for three attempts at its version of overtime, the race went 12 laps past the scheduled distance of 188 trips around the 2.66-mile superspeedway.

It covered a record 88 lead changes among a record 29 drivers, and the final pass was the one that had everyone talking.

"I hate to show my age, but that was a tremendous pass just like the old days, like you would have seen Buddy Baker or Cale Yarborough," Martin said. "That was a tremendous pass, and it was timed perfectly."

McMurray, this year's Daytona 500 winner after winning the October race at Talladega, couldn't hide his disappointment at misplaying the final half-lap. Seeking his third consecutive restrictor-plate victory, he stretched his fuel tank to the bitter end while racing wide-open to the finish line.

He held the bottom line, one eye on the finish line and the other in his rearview mirror, certain that Harvick's lone attempt to pass would be on the outside.

"I really thought that Kevin was going to go high," McMurray said after his second-place finish. "I felt like I was close enough to the yellow line that there was a lot more racetrack to the right. I was really guarding against the outside."

The margin of victory of 0.011 seconds was the eighth-closest in NASCAR since it began using electronic scoring in 1993.

But Felix Sabates, co-owner of McMurray's Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team, questioned whether Harvick's pass was even legal. Because McMurray left so little real estate below him, Sabates believed Harvick dipped below the yellow out-of-bounds line.

"He passed Jamie under the yellow line and the rule is very specific," Sabates argued.

Harvick snickered and rolled his eyes when told of Sabates' claim.

He didn't have a ton of time to celebrate his first win in more than three years. Rain postponed the Nationwide Series race Saturday, so Harvick and nine others had to hustle across the garage to run another 312 miles.

They almost finished 1-2 again in the second event, but a frightening last-lap crash triggered when McMurray, who needed aspirin mid-Nationwide race for a headache, tried to squeeze in behind Harvick in a tight pack of traffic. Harvick settled for third, while McMurray was 14th.

Harvick's Cup victory was the first victory at Talladega for team owner Richard Childress since October 2000 in what was the final win of the late Dale Earnhardt's career.

The race was fairly clean for the first 465 miles, as drivers simply tried to ensure they'd be around at the end. That's when the chaos usually breaks out at Talladega, and Sunday was no exception.

Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson tangled on the track in the second consecutive race. Gordon believes Johnson squeezed him down the track late in the race, triggering a crash that took Gordon out of contention, and Gordon didn't mask his anger after the race.

"The 48 is testing my patience, I can tell you that," said Gordon, who finished 22nd. "It takes a lot to make me mad. I am (mad) right now. I don't know what it is with me and him right now."

Johnson was later involved in his own accident, wrecking with Greg Biffle on the second attempt at overtime.

That set up the third and final "green-white-checkered" finish. Before this season, NASCAR made one attempt at a two-lap sprint to the finish. The week of this year's season-opener, though, NASCAR decided it would allow up to three attempts to finish a race under green.

That tweak to the rules cost Harvick the Daytona 500 -- he would have won the opener if the rules had not been changed -- but benefited him Sunday. The three restarts gave him opportunity to slice his way through traffic; he was in seventh on the first attempt, fifth on the second and third on the final restart.

Harvick had rehearsed his next move several times this weekend, knowing what he'd do and where on the track he'd do it if in position to win the race.

"He made the move to the outside and I jerked left, so I was going the opposite way that he was going," he said. "It's kind of like that old theory, if you're the car leading the race, you don't want to be the one that makes that call. He made the move to the right and I just went left."

Juan Pablo Montoya finished third, Denny Hamlin was fourth and was followed by Mark Martin, David Ragan and Clint Bowyer. Kurt Busch was eighth, while Kyle Busch and Mike Bliss rounded out the top 10.