Bruce Martin
Friday February 8th, 2008

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Kevin Harvick admitted that he sometimes watches the end of an NFL game on FOX just so he can see his thrilling side-by-side victory over Mark Martin in last year's Daytona 500 during the signoff montage.

There it is, right as the announcer bellows, "You're watching FOX Sports, home of Super Bowl XLII, the Daytona 500, Major League Baseball and the World Series!"

"It still gives me chills," Harvick admitted. "If you don't get chills from that, you need to watch a different sport. It makes you want to go out and win it again."

As NASCAR prepares for the 50th Daytona 500, Harvick's finish is a moment frozen in the history of this race.

With Martin in the lead, Harvick was able to drive side-by-side off the fourth turn in a last attempt to steal the victory. With just a few hundred feet to the finish line, Harvick nudged his Chevrolet across the line just a few inches ahead of Martin's as the cars racing behind them were involved in a massive crash.

A huge photo of that finish hangs from the outside of the Sprint Tower grandstand at Daytona International Speedway, a reminder of one of the greatest finishes in NASCAR's biggest race.

"The way that we won it is just cool in itself," Harvick said. "It's really cool to be able to experience that without having to experience it by somebody else telling me. I had led the race up until 20 laps to go and ended up in a 20-car pileup, so I've been on both sides of it. The way we won the race was pretty spectacular at the end with crashes. And we came from 30th with 20 laps to go. It was spectacular, but it was like racing your go-kart in the backyard."

Harvick adds, "It doesn't matter what you do, it's about figuring a way to get ahead of the other guy."

The fantastic finish also denied Martin his greatest moment in racing: something that one year later is not lost on Harvick.

"You have to feel sorry for Mark," he said. "Mark Martin is one of the greatest drivers to ever come through our sport. He doesn't have the Daytona 500 and the championship, and to be that guy to take it away from him, you might have a soft heart, but the competitor in you always overrides your heart It's all about winning."

That will and determination sets Harvick apart from other drivers. That same drive also keeps him from thinking that last year was a success just because he won NASCAR's biggest race, but didn't do well in "The Chase for the Championship."

"After we won Daytona, my wife said, `Well, no matter what happens this year, you won the Daytona 500," Harvick said. "I never could actually make myself come to that. It's just the competitor in me. Yes, I had won the Daytona 500, but that doesn't make up for not doing well at other tracks.

"As we went on through the year and everybody wanted to talk about the Daytona 500, you understand what a big deal it was. Dale Earnhardt tried to win the race for 20 years, You understand why it was such a big deal to Dale because it's a race that makes NASCAR what it is. I'm just glad I understand why."

Although Harvick has never won the Sprint Cup title, he has already taken NASCAR's two biggest races, the other being the AllState 400 at the Brickyard. Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Dale Jarrett, Bill Elliott, Jimmie Johnson and Harvick are the only drivers to win both.

Harvick may actually have more in common with the late Earnhardt than taking over the same ride at Richard Childress Racing. Although Earnhardt was an American original and completely irreplaceable, Harvick shares some characteristics. He isn't afraid to say what is on his mind no matter how it affects him or others. If he has an issue with someone, he is going to be direct in his response and not worry about the repercussions. Earnhardt was "The Intimidator" but Harvick carries an intimidating presence himself.

"A lot of guys today say pretty much what they think their sponsors want them to say," Harvick said. "I think I've held true to who I am, where I came from, and what I believe. Whether that's right or wrong, sometimes it's right, sometimes it's wrong. I don't know if you want to call it a throwback or what you want to call it. I think of myself as just a normal, laidback person, but I'm not scared of a challenge. Challenges are what motivate me. I love challenges. I love to have my back against the wall. I'm not always going to be right, but eventually I'm going to knock that wall down. There hasn't been anything we haven't been able to accomplish in my racing career.

"Until they tell me I can't drive any more, I'm not going to quit trying."

When Harvick was asked if sees some of Earnhardt's qualities in his character, he admitted, "I didn't really know him that well, but that's who my dad and I rooted for when we watched racing on the weekends. My dad always liked him because [Earnhardt] liked to tell it how it was and was blue-collar, rough and tumble. Sometimes we ate hot dogs because we couldn't afford to go to the store and buy spaghetti."

So here is Harvick, from humble beginnings in Bakersfield, CA. now one of NASCAR's biggest stars. And as NASCAR celebrates the 50th running of its biggest race, he is in select company as all living former winners of the Daytona 500 will be honored leading up to the start of the race.

"We have already had one of those gatherings and it's a pretty impressive room," Harvick said. "You see A.J. Foyt and Dale Jarrett, all the different guys that have won the Daytona 500. It's just really, really neat to just kind of listen to their stories and watch, then mingle and really just take it all in. It's neat to be a part of that."

Even a man who exudes self-confidence as Harvick can admit to being humbled in the same room as the racing legends that have won the Daytona 500. But that doesn't mean he's satisfied. Far from it.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.