Martin, making his 23rd attempt at a 500 win, seemed to have victory in hand when a hard-charging Harvick barreled along the outside of Martin to earn his second victory at Daytona International Speedway in two nights. Harvick won Saturday's Busch race — his first ever victory at Daytona.
As Harvick pushed into the lead, Kyle Busch wiggled behind them and bumped into Matt Kenseth to start a melee. Harvick and Martin raced side by side, waiting for NASCAR to call for a caution. When it finally came, Harvick was barely ahead.
"My go-kart experience over the winter paid off, because I didn't let off the floor and we just kept hitting things and the wall and bouncing off everything," Harvick said. "But man, this is the Daytona 500. Can you believe it?"
It took several moments for NASCAR to declare a winner, finally giving it to Harvick and spoiling what would have been the biggest victory of the 48-year-old Martin's career.
"I didn't ask for a win in the Daytona 500, I asked for a chance," Martin said. "I let it slip away, slip through my fingers, and I'm fine with that."
It was just the finish NASCAR needed to put racing back in the spotlight after a cheating scandal nearly ruined the Great American Race.
Five teams were busted for breaking the rules during Speedweeks — including two-time winner Michael Waltrip, who broke the NASCAR code by tampering with his fuel before qualifying.
It put the sport in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, and NASCAR had to ratchet up its penalty process to prevent its premier event from turning into a joke.
Finishes like this one might fix everything.
Martin led 26 laps and was out front when a five-car accident brought racing to a standstill with five laps to go. It made for an agonizing 11 minutes, 39 seconds for Martin, who could do nothing but sit idly in his car trying to plot his strategy during the stoppage.
When racing resumed with two laps to go, Martin seemingly needed only to hold off Kyle Busch in a sprint to the finish. He weaved high and then low to block Busch's attempts, which may have distracted him from Harvick.
Running in his own high line, Harvick charged hard on the outside and was side-by-side with Martin when Busch triggered the accident. Neither driver let up as they charged ahead waiting for NASCAR to call it.