Kevin Harvick proved Saturday night you don't have to be well to win.
Harvick battled flu-like symptoms on Thursday and missed practice. Fortunately for him, he also missed the wreck that collected the No. 29 Shell Chevrolet in the process.
And although he never ran a lap in his car, Saturday night he credited the team with preparing "a rocket" that "handled really well" for his second consecutive Bud Shootout victory at Daytona International Speedway.
"I guess we could just skip practice," Harvick radioed to the crew.
Carl Edwards won the pole and led 42 of the first 43 laps. Jamie McMurray, making his debut in the No. 1 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, exhibited the first flash of the Earnhardt Childress horsepower -- which served him well throughout the race -- on Lap 30.
Tony Stewart was a contender early on, but he didn't have enough car to hold off Harvick, who took the point from the No. 14 Chevrolet on Lap 46 with not much of a challenge from the field over the last 30 laps.
"I wouldn't say we were a very strong car, we just got good track position," said Stewart, who started 13th but climbed into the top five in the first 10 laps. "We had to be in clean air; we got really tight even if we were second in line."
The action slowed when Michael Waltrip spun on the backstretch to trigger the fourth caution of the evening on Lap 70. The front-runners -- led by Harvick and McMurray -- pitted with the field with the exception of Greg Biffle and Kasey Kahne, who remained on the track. Harvick knew he needed a push on the restart and received an assist from Jeff Gordon.
As the race went green on Lap 75, Harvick barreled to the lead in Turn 2. As the field entered Turn 3, Gordon rear-ended Biffle, who was on old tires, igniting an eight-car wreck behind the leaders.
"Winner, winner, chicken dinner," Harvick's spotter Billy O'Dea crowed as the accident unfolded.
"Did we win?" Harvick asked.
"You're the man," answered team owner Richard Childress. "You are the man."
"Whoo hoo," Harvick replied. "Hell yeah."
After taking the white and yellow flags, Harvick obeyed crew chief Gil Martin's order to bring the car around cautiously as the mangled machines made their way to the garage. Harvick led his 21st lap to the start/finish line as Kahne, McMurray, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five.
"I knew I needed to go, but I thought I could get by at least one of the guys on old tires there and try to get myself in position," Harvick said. "I was happy Greg chose the outside because he set the pace to start. We were able to get the best restart we had all night and push him out there and were able to just carry that momentum in to turn one.
"Kinda drug the brake a little bit to let the No. 9 get right up behind us to stay side-by-side with the No. 16 so that we didn't get any three wide or anybody else involved in the mix. We were able to get a good push down the back. I don't know what happened after that."
Putting it into the drivers' hands
Drivers were receptive to the larger restrictor plates, which optimized the horsepower and offered better control of the cars.
Both McMurray and Kahne were able to use the new package to their advantage.
"I never let off the gas," McMurray said. "I ran flat out. The only time I had to let off is if I had a huge run, and I knew pushing the guy in front of me that I was going to shove him through whoever he was behind.
"The huge runs that everybody is getting is because we have a bigger plate. I don't think that a smaller plate would benefit anything. That's great they keep opening that up. It seems to give the cars more acceleration. With the old style cars and everything, it took a long time to get everything wound up. If you got out of the gas, it would slow down and take you like a lap to get wound back up. With this, it takes one straightaway and you're kind of back to where you were."
Despite Carl Edwards' Bud Shootout dominance early in the race, once he lost the lead, then the draft, and drifted to the back it was difficult to regain momentum.
Although he was riding in the top 10 before the final restart, Edwards' evening ended in the last-lap crash, which also collected teammates Biffle and Matt Kenseth.
"I didn't see what happened, but they all started wrecking there," Edwards said. "I saw Biffle get real sideways, but I had a lot of fun. We led a bunch of laps and it's just too bad it ended that way. That was coming for a long time.
"Guys did a really good job, everybody did, the whole day or racing pretty clean."
On the bright side, Edwards was thrilled with his pit crew, a key element that was missing in 2009.
Kurt Busch was 0-2 with cars during the first weekend of Speedweeks.
Busch was collected in the multi-car crash triggered by Denny Hamlin in practice Thursday. Then he went for a wild ride in the front-stretch grass Saturday night after he was pinched by Mark Martin coming out of Turn 4, 32 laps into the Bud Shootout.
"Once I got hit, the hood just popped up and I couldn't see much," Busch said. "I was just trying to stay out of the wall, but the momentum took us up there. All in all, I thought that I was in the high lane and I got on the high side of Mark going through Turn 4. I don't know if I pinched him or he wanted to come up.
"It's not fun. I'm making more laps in the ambulance then I am on the track. Sorry Roger (Penske, team owner). I've got two burned-up cars. We still have our primary (car) and a primary backup, but not a good average right now. I'm just looking for this weekend to be over and we'll start up again Wednesday."
Martin accepted responsibility for the incident and inevitably suffered a similar fate on the last lap. Over the course of the evening, Martin's car popped out of gear and he fell through the field and never caught up. When Biffle spun out on the final lap, Martin too lost his second car of the weekend.