The field for Sunday’s Daytona 500 has been set after the conclusion of the Duel qualifying races Thursday.
Kevin Harvick picked up right where he left off winning the first Duel. Harvick, who won the Sprint Unlimited, last Saturday took the lead after a round of pit stops and in a repeat of the Unlimited held off Greg Biffle, who finished second in that race, to score his first Duel victory in 11 starts.
Pole sitter Danica Patrick led the field to the green but dropped back soon after surrendering the lead to 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne. After one round of pit stops, Harvick found himself at the point on lap 37 and never looked back.
“When those guys were coming up through there we were kind of 10th or 12th in that pack. I saw them coming on the bottom and we were able to kind of break that top line up a little bit and get them spread out,” Harvick said. “Finally, a couple of holes to jump up into then the bottom would come back. We would get past a couple more there at the end especially after that pit stop I figured the bottom was going to be the place; since we didn’t have the biggest pack to make the least amount of time so that the pack behind us could make up the least amount of time. Luckily, it all played out our way. Hopefully, we can do it one more time.”
The only incident came with 8 laps to go. With Harvick leading a four car breakaway behind them as part of a 17 car pack, Denny Hamlin got loose coming out of turn 2. Hamlin turned down into the back of Carl Edwards setting off a crash the involved Bayne. Hamlin was able to continue while Bayne and Edwards were forced to retire.
“That is the fourth time we have wrecked since we have been down here,” Edwards said. “I told Jimmy (crew chief Jimmy Fennig) we wrecked four times, so we have the black flag already and the race hasn’t even started. We are getting it out of our systems. Fortunately we have a really good group of guys and have a good backup car, which is our Shootout car. We will just go get ‘em in the 500. I learned a lot. If we can just have a little luck I would not count our 99 team out. It will be a good race for us.”
Behind Harvick and Biffle, Juan Pablo Montoya who sustained slight damage in the races only incident, charged from 13th on the restart to finish third; Jimmie Johnson was fourth and Kurt Busch fifth.
Tony Stewart, Brad Keselowski, Casey Mears, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Joey Logano rounded out the top ten. One transfer spot into the Daytona 500 went to Michael Waltrip who finished 14. Martin Truex Jr. was scored in the top five when the checkered fell, but lost a side window and was penalized and scored at the tail end on the lead lap.
Jeff Gordon took the field to the green flag in the second Duel, which ran caution free. Gordon would hold the top spot until pitting on lap 40. It was during that pit stop that Gordon’s race effectively ended when NASCAR said he was speeding on pit road. Gordon was forced in for a pass through penalty handing the lead to Kyle Busch. Busch remained in the top spot holding off one final charge by Kasey Kahne. Rookie Austin Dillon came home third. Clint Bowyer and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top five. Gordon finished 12.
"I think we just missed on...you want to maximize everything you have out there," Gordon said. "Every opportunity. You don't want give up anything on pit road, and we were just a little bit too aggressive with our setting. I ran it spot on where it needs to be. They gave us the numbers, it was just a tiny bit over in three segments. It wasn't that we had a problem or anything like that, we just pushed it too hard."
The win for Busch was his second Duel victory, the first coming in 2009. It was also a win Busch wasn’t sure about even on the last lap.
“I was hoping it would go down in order and I knew those guys back there were probably thinking, 'Okay, those two are just going to stay single file so they knew Matt (Kenseth) wasn't going to make the move,” Busch said.” I was hoping Matt was mirror driving just as much as I was to see if he couldn't keep those guys behind him and then I would go wherever he needed to go to protect his position. Just didn't work out. Once those guys got by Matt, I just basically concentrated on what was going on in my mirror and seeing what those guys were doing to make sure that we could bring this M&M's Camry home first.”
In terms of the Daytona 500, Brian Keselowski failed to race his way into the field in the first Duel, Mike Bliss failed to do so in the second; both will be the only two entries to miss Sunday’s race.