DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. For at least one day – or perhaps just a few minutes – Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch found themselves on the same stage.
Over the years the Sprint Cup Series drivers have butted heads on more than one occasion, but Thursday each took a turn in Victory Lane after winning their respective Budweiser Duel qualifying race at Daytona International Speedway.
With pole-winner Danica Patrick and Jeff Gordon locked into the front row for Sunday’s Daytona 500, as the winners of the qualifying races, Harvick and Busch will start alongside each other on Row 2.
The win is Harvick’s second of Speedweeks, following his victory in the Sprint Unlimited non-points event Saturday night. If he wasn’t one of the favorites to win the 500, he certainly cemented that position Thursday.
“You have to be precise with this car. Obviously, at the beginning of the race, we got ourselves stuck in the middle trying to make something happen. I hadn’t been in that particular position before to see what was going to happen,” Harvick said.
Precision also required patience on Harvick’s part.
“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,” he said. “I think that’s only going to get better as you get all the cars in the pack.
“Hopefully on Sunday we’ll be able to be right back here.”
Harvick continues to impress despite entering the season knowing he will not return to his No. 29 Richard Childress Racing team for 2014.
“All these guys care about is winning,” Harvick said.
Greg Biffle finished second in the first Duel, followed by Juan Pablo Montoya, Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch.
Kyle Busch’s victory came in part because of a penalty to Jeff Gordon, who dominated the second Duel until he made his green-flag pit stop on Lap 40 of 60.
Gordon was penalized by NASCAR for exceeding the speed limit while entering pit road and was forced to come back down pit road and as a drive-through penalty. He ended up finishing 12th.
Kyle Busch inherited the lead after Gordon’s miscue and was seriously challenged only once – when Clint Bowyer grabbed the lead on Lap 52, but Busch quickly retook it.
Austin Dillon finished third in the second Duel and will make his first start in the 500. Bowyer was fourth and Matt Kenseth fifth.
“When you get out front, you can run pretty good and you just try to hold off everyone else behind you,” Kyle Busch said. “There just wasn’t enough lane-by-lane racing.
Crew chief “Dave Rogers made a great call there to take fuel only on the pit stop and get us out front, and I had a great teammate behind me in Matt Kenseth giving me a push at the end.”
The win helps Busch get a good start to the season after coming off a 2012 when he won one race and failed to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Despite starting out front in the first Duel, Patrick failed to lead a lap. She eventually dropped to the back of the field and finished 17th.
“It’s not an exciting mission when you’ve just got to bring it home. But, it is for the Daytona 500, so you’ve got to keep that in mind,” she said.
“I learned that the outside is strong and it carries a lot of good momentum. And then I learned that you need some friends.”
There was only one caution between both races and that came on Lap 53 of the first Duel.
Denny Hamlin’s car got loose and started a four-car wreck that also collected Carl Edwards, Regan Smith and Trevor Bayne. Bayne and Edwards will have to use back-up cars for Sunday’s 500 and start the race from the back of the field.
“That is the fourth time we have wrecked since we have been down here. I told (crew chief Jimmy Fennig) we wrecked four times, so we have the black flag already and the race hasn’t even started,” Edwards said.
With only 45 cars vying for the 43-car field only Mike Bliss and Brian Keselowski failed to make it into Sunday’s race.