The Racing Capital
of the World
February 21, 2013 | By Bruce Martin
Daytona Beach, Florida - With the field for the 55th Daytona 500 stacked with “Brickyard Legends” – drivers who have won at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway or have strong connections to the Hoosier State – the driver who emerged as a favorite to win Sunday’s race is 2003 Brickyard 400 winner Kevin Harvick.
He backed up his victory from Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited race that featured last year’s pole winners with a victory in Thursday’s first Budweiser Duel at Daytona. Harvick, the 2007 Daytona 500 winner, won a Duel for the first time in 11 tries and has placed his Budweiser Chevrolet as the car to beat in NASCAR’s Crown Jewel.
Kyle Busch won the second Daytona Duel when he defeated former Indianapolis resident and former USAC star Kasey Kahne in a race that four-time Brickyard 400 winner Jeff Gordon dominated until he got nailed for a speeding penalty on pit road. Instead of racing for the victory, Gordon finished 12th.
NASCAR went back to the old qualifying rules for the Daytona 500, which meant Daytona 500 pole winner Danica Patrick and front row starter Gordon were assured of their starting positions regardless of the outcome. Then, the top 15 drivers in each Duel other than Patrick or Gordon would automatically transfer into the starting lineup for the Daytona 500. The rest of the field outside of those cars was filled by qualification speeds, owner points and champions provisional.
By winning the first Duel, Harvick will start third in the Daytona 500, right behind Patrick’s GoDaddy Chevrolet.
So how does Harvick feel about being considered “The Favorite?”
“We like to be the lame duck underdog -- that's what we're shooting for,” Harvick said. “It's one of those deals where you want to win. We've been fortunate to win the first two races of Speedweeks. We just got to keep a level head on our shoulders, not get too high over what we've done, and just do the same things that we've done. If it's meant to be, it's meant to be.
“I think we definitely have the car and team to be in contention to do that.”
If Harvick should win the Daytona 500 he would be the first driver to win the Unlimited, a Duel and the Daytona 500.
“It's been a great start to SpeedWeeks obviously with the Unlimited and to get our first win with Budweiser onboard for the first time in the Duels is really cool,” Harvick said. “The guys at Richard Childress Racing have just done a great job. Obviously 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.”
Thursday’s races, however, featured a form of racing where it was difficult for the leader to get passed at the end of the race as drivers fell into single file. Without the aid of another driver trying to develop another line on the race track it allowed both winners to make it to the checkered flag unchallenged.
“You have to be precise with this car,” Harvick said. “Obviously at the beginning of the race, got ourselves stuck in the middle trying to make something happen. Hadn't been in that particular position before to see what was going to happen. I didn't have a lot of help. Just one car in front of us. Kind of fell to the back. They got single file. I think there were four or five cars started coming on the bottom. 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.
“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’s Chevrolet fell back to 12th or 13th in the first race before he found his way to get back to the front.
“We were the last car in that particular line,” Harvick said. “Until the next group caught us, we weren't able to make many moves. But the good thing about today compared to the other night is that bottom, once you get four or five cars, it can seem to make some ground on the cars on the top, even if they're lined up. As that pack gets bigger, I think that's going to get even better. If you find a slot to fill into the line, you feel like your momentum has stalled in whatever line you're in, you need to get into that slot or you're going to go all the way to the back of it.
“Like I told you guys the other night, it's just like it was 10 years ago. It really is. It's the same way we used to race with the old style cars, no roof fins, nothing on top of them. It's the same style race. Handling even is coming into effect as we've seen in practice and the race today.”
Roush Fenway driver Greg Biffle finished second to Harvick in the first Duel followed by 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya.
“It was kind of a weird race,” Montoya said. “The second or third lap, we talked with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. before the race, we both wanted to get to the front, I'll just follow him. I went into turn three. Our car has been pretty good. If anything it's been a little loose. I went into turn one, it headed towards the fence. I felt the chatter, I put on the brakes, and even like that, I just ran out of room.
“I just had to run at the top. Rode for a while. Had the pit stop. We decided we were doing four tires. It was just too slow. We lost ground. Then at the end it was good.”
Four-time Brickyard 400 winner and five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson finished fourth.
“It’s really tough to pass,” Johnson said. “When another car gets near your rear tire it’s like you threw the parachute out. Just a new vehicle, a new way to race we are trying to understand how to make our car better in those situations, just trying to learn really. Great run, a Chevy won, I think we were in position to win ourselves too, so a very good day.”
Kurt Busch finished sixth followed by “Brickyard Legend” Tony Stewart of Columbus, Ind., a two-time Brickyard 400 winner and three-time Cup champion.
“The top line seemed to be where you needed to be,” Stewart said. “I think there were a lot of guys who weren’t going to be content just riding in line. They kept trying to make a move, and it seemed like the more guys did it in the back half (of the field), the more guys started getting lined up together and working with each other, and I think we started to make a dent at it before pit stops. Pit crews are going to make a huge difference on Sunday. That’s going to be the difference between which pack you come out in. You’re going to have to have good stops to stay up there all day.
“It’s just risk versus reward. Every time you go out there you’ll try to be selective about who you go with, and I think you’ll see what we’ve already seen to this point in practice. I don’t think you’ll see big packs. I think you’ll see a lot of smaller packs go out and run with each other versus one big group.”
As for Patrick, the 2005 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year and the only female driver ever to lead laps in the Indy 500, it didn’t matter where she finished because she will start from the pole.
“Yeah, it’s not an exciting mission when you’ve just got to bring it home,” Patrick said. “But, it is for the Daytona 500, so you’ve got to keep that in mind. I learned that the outside is strong and it carries a lot of good momentum. And then I learned that you need some friends. I also learned that you can’t be too tight because that outside is what’s good, but you can’t be too tight, which mine was. It was way too tight at the start. But we wanted to be conservative. We didn’t want to have any issues with the GoDaddy car. We wanted to make sure we’ve got it on that front row for Sunday. Again, it’s not the most exciting way to race, but something was wrong with the tach. I didn’t know what speed I was doing, so I just went really slow. I tried to hit the right revs and I realized there’s no lights for those revs. So, I knew there was something wrong and then when I got out there on the track it showed I was going 10,000 rpm. I’m sure I’d love to have the kind of speed that comes with 10,000 rpm gives you, but it wasn’t right. So, it’s good to get those little bugs out of the way. We’ll fix them and be solid for Sunday.”
Patrick knows she will need some “friends” on Sunday if she is going to have drafting partners in the 500-mile race.
“I hung around the back -- I’m not really sure what I did or if I made friends,” Patrick said. “But, usually you make the kind of friends you want when you’re running up front and you’re pulling people along and they’re like, you’re fast and I want to go with you. But we were definitely a little too tight and being a little too conservative to put ourselves up there in the mix.
“I hate coming to the end like that and just lying back on those starts. That’s not fun. But it’s also really ignorant to drive up into the pack and be part of an accident for absolutely no reason. You’re really not going to learn much there. So, we just finished the race off and made another change and it kind of ended up being like a test session for us.”
Gordon was the main “Brickyard Legend” in the second Duel and his shot at victory was spoiled with the pit road penalty that doomed him to 12th place.
“I was out front the whole time, but there are two things that I take from this,” Gordon said. “This is why you want to qualify on the front row, because of a little incident like that (pit road speeding penalty). As well as, that is why we race this race. It's nice, because we need to learn that now on the tach, and on pit road to make sure that doesn't happen in the 500.
“You want to maximize everything you have out there. 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."
Gordon admits that the leader has a huge advantage with the new race car that is making its NASCAR debut this season.
“I would have liked to have been up there with Kasey Kahne,” Gordon said. “You have got to have somebody go with you; you can't do it by yourself. But you can get a run, definitely. No doubt about it. I knew Kasey was just sitting there behind me just waiting for the right moment and opportunity late in this race. This is a real thinking race now. It comes down to the way it used to. You get yourself in position. Everybody kind of rides, and thinks about what they have. You have to have your car handling pretty good, which is tough to do further back in traffic. It looked like a few guys had a few small issues; nothing major. But it is hard to make it up through the field, and everybody is working together like that in that single file lane. That is the way it used to be. Long enough runs, especially when it's a little warmer and sun out, you are going to be able to make some moves. I was happy to see Kasey get up there at least to second. I think in the closing laps of a run, you start to see some moves happening."
Gordon also had nothing to lose because he is already locked into his front row starting position.
“I was out front, but I learned we have a very fast race car, which is the best thing to learn,” Gordon said. “We're starting on the front row of Sunday's Daytona 500 with a very good race car."
But it was the second place finisher in the second Duel that forecast the car and driver to beat in Sunday’s Daytona 500.
“I think Kevin looks really good,” Kahne said. “I always think Kevin is one of the guys to beat, when we come to Daytona especially. He's got this place figured out, for a long time he has. He showed that they're really fast. He understands this type of racing really well.
“I think he can be beat, yeah. I felt like my car, Jeff, the 18, there's a few of us in the second race there that had really good cars, I could move around really well, similar to what Harvick looked like in the first one.
“It will be interesting. But, yeah, Kevin's going to be good.”