BY CHAD DARE
DAYTONA, Fla. —
Getting adjusted to the new Chevrolet hasn’t been a problem for Kevin Harvick.
For the second time in as many races with NASCAR’s new Gen-6 stock car, the veteran driver found himself in victory lane as Harvick won the first Budweiser Duel on Thursday and Kyle Busch claimed the second 150-mile event.
Harvick also won the Sprint Unlimited last Saturday to kick off the week-long racing activities at the Daytona International Speedway which will conclude with Sunday’s Daytona 500.
“We’ve been fortunate to win the first two races of Speedweeks,” Harvick said. “We’ve just got to keep a level head on our shoulders, not get too high over what we’ve done, just do the same things that we’ve done.
“If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. I think we definitely have the car and team to be in contention to do that.”
Both of Thursday’s 60-lap Duel races featured just 23 and 22 cars respectively and Sunday’s exhibition race had only 19. So, nobody is completely sure what Sunday’s 500, with a field of 43 cars, will be like.
Kyle Busch believes it will be a much different as Thursday’s two contests had just 10 lead changes in 300-miles of racing.
“With more cars out there, we might see it be a little different come Sunday,” said Busch, who was driving a Toyota Camry. “There were half the field in each race, obviously. There’s going to be twice as many good cars, twice as many middle of the pack cars, twice as many back of the pack cars. If you can get your car handling, driving, feeling good, you’ll be able to be one of the guys that’s up front.
“Come race time, if we’re able to get more racing going on, more side?by?side action going on, two?lane, three?lane stuff going, you’ll see handling playing more of a role, you might see more separation between some more cars, which if that’s the case, it’s a double?edged sword. You’ll see it single file out again because there’s not enough cars to make a pack.”
According to Harvick, this year’s style of racing is very similar to what the drivers dealt with a decade ago.
“It’s just like it was 10 years ago, it really is,” said Harvick, who started driving in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2001. “It’s the same way we used to race with the old-style cars, no roof fins, nothing on top of them. It’s the same style race. Handling even is coming into effect as we’ve seen in practice and the race today.”
In both races on Thursday, the driver with the lead heading into the final lap was able to maintain its advantage on the final circuit of the 2.5-mile oval. Harvick finished in front of Greg Biffle, while Busch held off Kasey Kahne.
“I think it’s just a matter of whoever gets out front, to be honest with you,” Busch said. “These cars so far have shown it’s a little bit harder to pass the leader, especially if you’re the guy that’s on the topside.”
Both Harvick and Busch spent a great deal of time in the middle of the pack during their Duels until making their only pit stop.
Busch attempted to make a move about halfway through his race, moving up to third, but the single-file racing style quickly bumped him back to seventh.
“Today was just one of those days where you had to really be patient, kind of let things play out a little bit and see how things were going to go,” Busch said. “Patience wore thin … I tried to make a move to the bottom side. I thought maybe I could make a move to the bottom, side draft somebody and kind of pull them back a little bit to get a gap for them so that I could slide back in line, but it just didn’t happen.”
Busch finally got himself out front with a gas-only pit stop on Lap 41 and he led all but one of the final 19 laps en route to the victory.
While Harvick gained his advantage as he led a charge on the lowside past Trevor Bayne, who had the lead for 35 of the first 36 laps.
“I think there were four or five cars started coming on the bottom,” Harvick said. “I thought we needed to at least try to make something happen.
“We were able to side draft and break them up one or two at a time.”
Rounding out the top-five in the first Duel was Biffle, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch.
In the second duel, Kahne, rookie Austin Dillon, Clint Bowyer and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top five.
Neither Daytona 500 pole winner Danica Patrick nor Jeff Gordon, assured of starting on the outside pole after Sunday’s qualifying, figured into Thursday’s races.
Patrick, of Roscoe, spent most of the first Duel running just outside of the top-20. But the first female to win a NASCAR pole had a guaranteed spot in Sunday’s race.
“I suppose there’s a sense of relief,” she said. “But at the same point in time, I’m a race car driver, and it’s not fun to have to protect and be careful and be cautious and drop back at times.”
Gordon, a native of Pittsboro, Ind., had the lead for the first 39 laps of the second Duel, but a speeding penalty during his only pit stop hampered his chances for winning the race as he finished 12th.
Casey Mears, who is represented by Danville’s Doug Barnette, was eighth in the first Duel driving the Geico Ford. He will start 17th in Sunday’s 500.
Speedweeks continues tonight with the Camping World Truck Series event at the Daytona International Speedway.