DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Kevin Harvick made it 2 for 2 at Speedweeks on Thursday by winning the first Daytona 500 qualifying race.
Harvick held off Greg Biffle over a four-lap sprint to win the first 150-mile Budweiser Duel. Harvick and Biffle also went 1-2 in last Saturday night’s exhibition race.
"Man, we’re just having a good time," said Harvick, who has his infant son at Daytona International Speedway for the first time. "Just relaxing, ready to race."
The starting field for Sunday’s season-opening Daytona 500 is set by the results from the pair of 60-lap qualifiers.
The first race Thursday was dull until Denny Hamlin brought out the only caution with seven laps remaining. Hamlin lost control of his car, spun into Carl Edwards and triggered a four-car accident that also collected Regan Smith and Trevor Bayne, who had a dominant car early in the qualifier.
"I know what the wrecks look like now, I am really familiar with them," said Edwards, who was also wrecked in Wednesday’s practice.
Juan Pablo Montoya, who infamously crashed into a jet dryer during last year’s Daytona 500 to trigger a massive fuel fire, stopped for minor repairs during the caution.
Montoya restarted the race in 13th with four laps remaining, but rocketed through the field to finish third.
"It was time to go," he said.
The bulk of the race seemed to be one long parade of NASCAR’s new Gen-6 race car. Unsure of how the cars handle in packs, and when the drivers choose to side-draft, most of the field in the first race 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 a clean race to guarantee a spot in Sunday’s field.
"I’m just trying to make the race. There were a lot of people that just wanted to get through some laps and understand what was going on. There were some of us that would have run like that until they threw the checkered just to make the race. And then there were some that decided it was time to go, and they made it work."
Waltrip is racing in a special Sandy Hook Special Support Fund paint scheme, and his car number has been changed to No. 26 as a tribute to the 26 students and teachers killed in the Newtown, Conn., school shooting.
"There’s a lot of people up in Connecticut with a smile on their face right now," Waltrip said.
Danica Patrick started on the pole for the first race and simply need to keep her car intact to hang on to her front row starting spot in the Daytona 500. She raced a little at the start of the duel, then faded back in the field and wound up 17th out of 23 cars.
"What I really feel like I need to do is go down to the Harvick bus and see what he’s doing," she said. "He’s got it going on down here."
Patrick became the first woman in history to win a pole at NASCAR’s top level when she qualified first for the Daytona 500.