2007 Pepsi 400: Jamie McMurray wins the Pepsi 400

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Jamie McMurray hadn't won a big race in five years. KyleBusch hadn't won one in about 12 hours.

In the end, they provided the kind of drama that might make kids in Chiledream of growing up to be NASCAR drivers. After 400 miles, McMurray beat Buschto the finish line by 0.005 of a second to win Saturday's Pepsi 400.

"I can't believe I'm in Victory Lane at Daytona," McMurray said.

He'd gone 166 races without a win. Getting back to the top was a testamentto perseverance and survival. On Saturday, he survived a wreck-filled race atDaytona International Speedway and found himself wheel-to-wheel with Busch inthe final lap.

Busch is a 22-year-old hotshot who won Saturday morning's 250-mile BuschSeries race. After 650 miles of hard driving, he had plenty of energy left at11 p.m. as he tried to hold off McMurray and a posse of cars in his rearviewmirror.

"It was so close," Busch said. "I thought I had enough momentum."

He eased ahead coming off the final turn, but McMurray found enoughhorsepower to nose into the lead.

"He beat us fair and square," Busch said. "I'm not crying."

There was some of that earlier Saturday as cars collided and driverswondered what went wrong. The first clue it would be a night of carnage cameafter 15 laps, when Tony Stewart rear-ended leader Denny Hamlin.

Stewart was going for his third straight Pepsi 400 win. Dale Earnhardt Jr.got tangled up in the spinning cars and had to go to the garage for repairs.Earnhardt and Stewart eventually returned, but if the Pepsi 400 were thepresidential race, they would have been Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich.

The Bush brothers would have been played by the Busch brothers, Kurt andKyle. Kurt was right behind Kyle on the final lap and attempted to give him anaerodynamic push to the finish line.

"I had my foot through the floorboard," he said.

It was the kind of finish that first-time fans had only heard about. One ofthem was Juan Ovalle, who came all the way from Santiago, Chile. Another wasRudy Giuliani, who came all the way from New York, N.Y.

The Republican presidential candidate said his wife had been to a race at"Pocono Downs." That's a 5/8th-mile harness-racing track in Pennsylvania.Whatever NASCAR votes he lost with that tongue slip, Giuliani probably made upfor with his enthusiasm.

"You've got to come to New York and do one of these," he said at thepre-race drivers meeting. "Maybe we do it through Central Park."

Daytona is no stranger to politicians trolling for votes. Ronald Reagan didradio play-by-play during the 1984 Firecracker 400 and won the election fivemonths later. The Pepsi 400 always provides a great slice of Americana.

Saturday's spectrum featured 43 cars, two blimps, four fighter jets flyingover, 150,000 fans, countless empty beer cans and no rain. The sky alwaysseems to threaten to fall in during the July race, but the gray clouds skirtedthe racetrack Saturday.

That didn't seem to help the racing, however. The hot asphalt made for someslick conditions, which contributed to the early carnage.

That's one reason Ovalle is the biggest NASCAR fan in Chile, where FormulaOne is king. He is a fruit exporter who was taken to Daytona on Saturday by aclient.

"This is much more exciting," Ovalle said. "Formula One is boring. You knowin advance who's going to win."

That definitely wasn't the case Saturday night. It was so close even thewinner didn't know he'd won at first.

"Who won?" McMurray radioed back to his crew.

"You did!"

"I just started beating my fist against the wheel," McMurray said. "I wasalmost in pain I was so excited."

David Whitley can be reached at dwhitley@orlandosentinel.com.

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