DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Kevin Harvick apparently got all the practice he needed for the Shootout when he won it last February. Everything else, inconclusive.
Absent from practice on Thursday because of flu-like symptoms and using a back-up No. 29 Chevrolet because teammate Clint Bowyer was involved in a wreck in his absence, Harvick became the first driver to repeat as winner of Sprint Cup’s season-opening non-points showcase since 2002.
“I've got to thank my team. They did a great job,” Harvick said. “Wrecked a car in practice, I was sick on Thursday, didn't even get to sit a lap in this thing, and that thing was a rocket, man."
It was rarely riveting, but it counted, especially for a driver hoping to respond from a season that turned sour after the 2009 Shootout. After winning the exhibition and finishing second in the Daytona 500 last season, he slumped with the rest of his Richard Childress Racing teammates. Harvick finished winless and 19th in driver points.
There was improvement as a group at the end of the season, and the carryover into SpeedWeeks gives Harvick something to latch onto. At least warily.
"I’ve been here enough where you know this can be a funny week and mess with you,” he said, “hour by hour, week by week. There’s so many variables this week can throw at you, like getting sick or wrecking a car in practice. You’ve just got to stay even-keel.”
Harvick led 21 laps, and pulled ahead in a green/white/checker finish just before Jeff Gordon bumped Greg Biffle. That sent Biffle cue-balling into the pack.
The running order was frozen by rule at the time of the caution and Harvick had clearly taken the lead.
“I knew if we got to Turn 3, I would be in better shape because I had tires and (Biffle) didn’t,” said Harvick, who restarted fourth after a two-tire stop.
Biffle was on old tires after he and Kasey Kahne had stayed out on a final caution to gain track position. NASCAR’s newly relaxed bump-drafting rules made Gordon’s push legal in the corner. Gordon asserted that he was trying to tap Biffle toward the front.
Kahne avoided the fray to finish second, followed by Jamie McMurray and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.
The final caution flag flew with six laps left.
Carl Edwards led the first 28 laps (and 42 overall) in a first session with few challenges. That segment ended under caution when Michael Waltrip flew off the backstretch and was bumped from behind by Joey Logano.
Challenges from Tony Stewart and McMurray came quickly in the second segment, but Edwards maintained the lead until McMurray eased the No. 1 Chevrolet ahead on Lap 29. Edwards regained the top spot by Lap 31, however.
Kurt Busch slid through the grass and nosed hard into the wall to bring out a caution on Lap 32 after being tapped from behind by Mark Martin’s No. 5 Chevrolet. Martin took responsibility for the incident. Martin and Busch were both already in backup cars after being involved in separate practice incidents.
A frustrated Busch said “I’m doing more laps in the ambulance than on the track.”
Martin had his own problems later when his car lost power and caused him to slump through the field.
The victory was a record seventh in the Shootout for owner Richard Childress.