Daytona Beach, Fla. — Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch will start on the second row for Sunday’s Daytona 500 after both drivers won the Budweiser Duel twin-qualifying races on Thursday at Daytona International Speedway.
Harvick grabbed the third starting position for the 500-mile race after taking the checkered flag for the first qualifier. Harvick, who won last Saturday’s Sprint Unlimited preseason event at Daytona, held off Greg Biffle at the finish line by just 0.16 seconds. It was the first time he has won a qualifier in 11 attempts.
“It’s been a great start to Speedweeks, obviously with the Unlimited,” Harvick said. “To get our first win with Budweiser (Harvick’s team sponsor) onboard for the first time in the Duels is really cool. The guys have just done a great job. Everybody thought we would qualify a little bit better, but we felt really good about our car yesterday after practice and felt like we could make some moves.”
Biffle, the Vancouver, Wash. native, also finished second to Harvick in the preseason event. He will start fifth in the Daytona 500.
Juan Pablo Montoya finished third, while Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch rounded out the top-five.
Sixth through 10th were: Tony Stewart, Brad Keselowski, the reigning Sprint Cup Series champion, Casey Mears, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Joey Logano. Earnhardt had to start from the rear of the field after blowing an engine during Wednesday’s practice for the qualifiers.
Bobby Labonte, David Gilliland, Joe Nemechek, Michael Waltrip and Scott Speed placed 11th through 15th, respectively.
Martin Truex Jr. crossed the line in the top-10, but Truex was black-flagged by race officials after the side window came off of his car. His 19th-place finish allowed Speed to grab a spot in the Daytona 500.
“We’re in, so that’s good,” Speed said.
Waltrip, who won the Daytona in 2001 and ‘03, made the race after missing it for the first time last year. Waltrip’s No. 26 Swan Racing Toyota has a special paint scheme honoring the shooting victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
“It’s just an honor to be able to race this car,” Waltrip said. “We went to Newtown a couple weeks ago and met with the town. Couldn’t wait to give them something to smile about. It’s been obviously a tough couple of months. All the fans are texting Newtown, 80888, rebuilding the town, whatever they need that money for, we’re glad we can help out.
“We we know we’re going to give them something to cheer about in the 500. There’s so many race fans in the northeast, it’s an honor to race it.”
In the second qualifier, Busch edged Kasey Kahne to the finish line by 0.09 seconds for his second win in this event. With no cautions, it took just 46 minutes and 24 seconds to complete at an average speed of 193.966 mph, making it the second quickest Duel in its history.
“It was hard to pass the leader,” Busch said. “You just stay out front when you can get out front, and you can run pretty good and just try to hold everybody off behind you. There wasn’t enough lane-by-lane racing. But, it’s awesome to be able to put the (car) in victory lane.”
Austin Dillon will make his first start in the Daytona 500 after finishing third in the qualifier. Clint Bowyer and Matt Kenseth, who won last year’s 500-miler, rounded out the top-five.
Mark Martin, Paul Menard, Jeff Burton, Jamie McMurray and David Ragan placed sixth through 10th, respectively.
Finishing 11th through 15th were: Marcos Ambrose, Jeff Gordon, Aric Almirola, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., a rookie in the series this year, and Dave Blaney.
The top-15 finishers in each of the two qualifiers guaranteed themselves a starting position in the Daytona 500.
Danica Patrick and Gordon had already secured the front row for the Daytona 500. Patrick won the pole position, while Gordon grabbed the second starting position during last Sunday’s time trials.
Since Gordon finished 12th in the second Duel, Josh Wise’s 16th-place run earned him a spot in the 500. Gordon dominated most of the race by leading 38 of the 60 laps, but a pit road speeding penalty late in the event put him out of contention to win.
“This is why you want to qualify on the front row because of a little incident like that (pit road speeding penalty),” Gordon said. “That is why we race this race. It’s nice because we need to learn that now on the (tachometer) and on pit road to make sure that doesn’t happen in the 500.”
After starting on the pole for the first qualifier, Patrick played it safe by dropping to the back of the draft. She ran there for most of the event before moving through the field en route to a 17th-place finish.
“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,” Patrick said.
The first qualifier ran caution free until seven laps remaining when a multi- car crash occurred on the backstretch. Denny Hamlin got loose coming out of turn two and bumped into Carl Edwards, who spun around and slammed hard into the outside wall. Edwards has now crashed three times during Speedweeks activities at Daytona.
“This is the worst Speedweeks start I have ever had,” Edwards said. “I don’t think I have crashed this many race cars in two years.”
Trevor Bayne, the 2011 Daytona winner, and Regan Smith were involved in the wreck as well. Bayne had led the first 37 laps before Harvick ran in front for remaining 23 circuits.
The only incident that occurred in the final Duel was Ryan Newman spinning around on the frontstretch after he could not get onto pit road during the round of stops. Newman punctured a tire and fell two laps off the pace to finish 21st. He is guaranteed a spot in the 500 based on his fourth-place result in time trials.
Mike Bliss and Brian Keselowski, who is the elder brother of Brad Keselowski, failed to make the starting lineup for the Daytona 500. Keselowski placed 21st in the 23-car field for the first qualifier, while Bliss finished last in the 22-car field for the second event.