Saturday, February 24, 2018
Sports

Harvick, Busch win Daytona 500 duels

DAYTONA BEACH — The whole "qualifying" spin with the twin qualifiers is really a marketing pitch. No marquee NASCAR driver was in great danger of failing to make Sunday's Daytona 500.

A total of 45 drivers competed in the two races Thursday at Daytona International Speedway with only two not making the 43-car field (Brian Keselowski and Mike Bliss).

So after cutting through the fine print, there was one significant takeaway: Kevin Harvick continued his blistering Speedweeks, winning the first race after winning the Sprint Unlimited exhibition Saturday night. Kyle Busch won the second. That means two of NASCAR's most aggressive drivers will start toward the front of the field.

Going into Thursday's races, only Danica Patrick and Jeff Gordon were assured of their top two starting slots after their qualifying efforts Sunday. Everybody else "raced" to get in.

Harvick and Busch don't have any sentimental story lines like Patrick, the first woman to qualify for the pole of a Sprint Cup race. But they will have fast cars that will be extremely competitive Sunday.

"It's one of those deals where you want to win," said Harvick, who, like on Saturday, held off Greg Biffle to win.

"We've been fortunate to win the first two races of Speedweeks. We just got to keep a level head on our shoulders; not get too high over what we've done and just do the same things that we've done. … I think we definitely have the car and team to be in contention."

Busch gave Toyota its first victory of Speedweeks and snapped Chevrolet's dominance. Harvick took the new Chevrolet SS to Victory Lane twice, and Patrick put it on the pole.

Busch wrecked out of Saturday's exhibition just 15 laps in, so he feels better about his shot at contending Sunday.

"I feel that's where we're at," Busch said. "(Winning is) an added bonus."

But nobody is quite sure what the 500 will look like with the new Gen-6 car. Sunday's race will have a full 43-car field, almost double the amount of cars that ran in Thursday's races. There were 19 on Saturday.

Like Saturday, the bulk of both races seemed to be one long parade. Unsure of how the cars handle in packs and when the drivers will choose to side-draft, most played it conservatively.

"The choice was obviously made by a bunch of us to run around in circles and just make laps," said two-time Daytona 500 champion Michael Waltrip, who needed to finish 15th in the first race to qualify and did exactly that. "There were a lot of people that just wanted to get through some laps and understand what was going on."

Busch said he believes more cars will create a much different race. "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," he said. "If you can get your car handling, driving, feeling good, you'll be able to be one of the guys that's up front."

Kasey Kahne, who took second behind Busch, said timing will be critical.

"I think it's tough because you don't know when you get that push. You don't know when it plays into your time," said Kahne, who did not get close enough to Busch to take a solid shot at the win. "I think you need to be ready at any time to get to the front, to second, to third, try to move up. I don't think waiting till the last lap is a ticket, the way things are right now."

But no matter what, Kahne isn't ready to give Harvick the win on Sunday.

"I think Kevin looks really good," he said. "He's got this place figured out. I think he can be beat. There's a few of us in the second race who had really good cars, and I could move around really well, similar to what Harvick did in the first race."

Information from Times wires was used in this report.

   
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