Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch took checkered flags in Thursday’s Budweiser Duel qualifying races at Daytona International Speedway.
After winning Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited, Harvick made a return trip to Victory Lane in the day’s opening 150-mile race. He now has a chance to be the first driver to pull off a Speedweeks sweep if he can get a win in Sunday’s Daytona 500.
“You want to win and we’ve been fortunate to win the first two races,” Harvick said. “We’ve got to keep a level head and not get too high. What's meant to be is meant to be. We’ve definitely got the car to do it.”
Greg Biffle finished second Thursday, as he did in Saturday’s exhibition race.
“I went all the way to the back when I started on the inside and worked my way all the way back to second place,” explained Biffle. “We'll just have to keep trying.”
Juan Pablo Montoya, Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch rounded out the top five. Tony Stewart, Brad Keselowski, Casey Mears, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Joey Logano completed the first 10 finishers.
The race was rather tame until lap 56, when a four-car accident was triggered on the backstretch when Denny Hamlin spun and collected Carl Edwards. Regan Smith and Trevor Bayne were also involved.
“It's unfortunate because we had a fast racecar and you don’t want to tear that stuff up,” said Bayne, who will be in the Daytona 500 based on qualifying speed but will be forced to start at the rear of the field. “I know they have a good back-up car for me.”
Michael Waltrip’s 14th-place finish was good enough to earn him a spot in the Daytona 500 with the Swan Racing entry. And after Martin Truex Jr. was black-flagged for a missing side window and dropped to 19th in the final finishing order, Scott Speed had raced his way into "The Great American Race.”
Daytona 500 pole sitter Danica Patrick ran near the front of the field for the early portion of the race but dropped back in the pack and finished 17th.
“I didn’t feel like I got a lot of experience on how to pass or in the draft, so much,” Patrick admitted. “I was able to hang with the group. I guess I did learn that being too tight is pretty detrimental here. If you can’t keep your foot in it and run up behind cars, then you’re going to struggle to make moves. It looks really hard to pass, to be honest.”
Kyle Busch crossed the finish line first in the day’s second qualifier. He drove his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to his second Budweiser Duel victory, outrunning Kasey Kahne to the checkered flag.
"It's hard to pass the leader,” Busch said when asked what he learned in the race. “When you get out-front, you can run pretty well. I don't know what to do to make two lanes go, but we've got to figure it out.''
Kahne finished second in the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet but thinks the driver who won the day’s first qualifying race is the one to beat on Sunday.
"I always think Kevin Harvick is one of the guys to beat, when we come to Daytona especially,” said Kahne. “He has had this place figured out for a long time."
Austin Dillon, Clint Bowyer and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top five. Dillon will make his first Daytona 500 start on Sunday.
"I'm glad my grandfather can sleep, now,” Dillon said of team owner Richard Childress. “He was wearing me out before the race."
Mark Martin, Paul Menard, Jeff Burton, Jamie McMurray and David Ragan completed the first 10 finishers. The race was run at average speed of 193.966 mph, second-fastest in Duel history.
Jeff Gordon, who will start on the outside of the front row in Sunday’s Daytona 500, led early in the race. But a pit road speeding penalty ruined his day and the Hendrick Motorsports driver wound up 12th in the final running order.
Sprint Cup Series teams will return to the track Friday for two more practice sessions.