Harvick avoids trouble, wins Sprint Unlimited at Daytona
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – If nothing else, the new Gen-6 car proved during Saturday night's Sprint Unlimited that tandem racing at Daytona International Speedway is a thing of the past.
The 75-lap exhibition race, formerly the Budweiser Shootout, was a sprint to the finish. Kevin Harvick, the 2007 Daytona 500 winner, escaped an early seven-car crash and held off Matt Kenseth to win the newly formated shootout for the third time.
Harvick dominated the last of the three segments after controlling much of the second 25-lap segment. Kenseth, the defending Daytona 500 champion, led 28 of 30 laps in the first segment.
In the final laps, Harvick preserved the win by denying Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart the lead, moves that prevented Kenseth from sling-shotting to the front to snatch away the checkered flag.
“I could see those guys coming, but you guard the bottom,” said Harvick, in his final season with Richard Childress Racing. “It was an awesome day for us. I learned you have to be patient with the (Gen-6), but there's still a lot to learn with a full pack of cars.”
On Lap 16, three-time winner Tony Stewart, who said shortly before the green flag dropped that aggression would be the key to victory, clipped Marcos Ambrose to trigger a nine-car crash. It was another reminder that no matter what generation of car, accidents are an inevitable reality of restrictor-plate racing.
Stewart got loose in Turn 2 to knock out several favorites, including Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, who together have nine Cup titles. Defending race winner Kyle Bush, Denny Hamlin, Mark Martin and Martin Truex also crashed in the first of the race's three segments — 30, 25 and 20 laps.
“I saw sparks, and I knew it wasn't going to end well,” Johnson said. “I didn't lead any laps, but I got a good feel for my race car.”
The Gen-6 has been fast in practices, but things have been rather dicey during side-by-side racing. So far, the drivers haven't lasted more than 15 laps in either race or practice conditions.
“We're all trying to figure out what you can or can not do with this car and what you have to do to make moves and pass,” Busch said. “Everyone's a little overzealous right now.”
But a new rule that prohibits driver-to-driver communication may have influenced the crash. Also, the drivers complained during practice that it's harder to see trailing traffic in the Gen-6.
• The Cup season began with defending points champion Brad Keselowski sitting in a television booth and runner-up Clint Bowyer an interested trackside observer. Neither was eligible to compete because they failed to win a pole in 2012 and hadn't won the race in the past.
• Juan Pablo Montoya, driving the No. 42 Chevrolet for Fox Chapel native Chip Ganassi, finished 14th.
“It's OK. It's part of racing,” Montoya said. “We will get it fixed and get out there. We will be fine.”
• Danica Patrick, piloting No. 10 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing, turned in the fastest lap during the second Cup practice with a speed of 196.220 mph. Patrick's performance puts her in position to challenge for the pole during today's Daytona 500 qualifying. “I suppose being the fastest going into qualifying is as good as you could hope for,” she said. “But I also understand that it's a whole different day.”
• Kyle Larson, who signed a Nationwide Series deal with Ganassi and Turner Motorsports last week, nearly charged to victory in the season-opening ARCA race. Jon Wes Townley held him off to win the Lucas Oil 200.