NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Sprint Cup Daytona Week 1 Recap

Harvick Holds Pack Off to Win Sprint Unlimited

Coming into the Sprint Unlimited on Saturday night, no one really knew what to expect. Every time a group of drivers had gotten on track together to practice drafting, a wreck brought the festivities to a halt. With spare parts and equipment at a premium, Saturday night’s race was a toss-up.

Fans were likely expecting a wild race with everything in doubt up to the start-finish line on the final lap. Instead, they got a race that was a little similar to last year’s restrictor plate races.

The fans’ role was ultimately muted by the actions in the event, and during Friday practice. The collective decision to line the grid up by when each driver won their first pole last season. That would have put Carl Edwards on pole with Mark Martin alongside. However, both drivers were in the big crash in practice on Friday and had to go to backup cars. As a result, Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle led the field to green.

Early on, it appeared that the Toyotas would be dominant. Martin Truex, Jr. made a run to the lead, disposing of Biffle in the process. However, Matt Kenseth was strongest in the first segment. Kenseth took the lead from Truex on Lap 5 and proceeded to do almost anything he wanted. It was clear that he was very quick.

Tony Stewart had the best car next to Kenseth and tried to make his move to get to the front. However, he misjudged where he was in relation to Marcos Ambrose on Lap 15. Stewart clipped Ambrose’s right-front corner and nearly wrecked in front of the field in Turn 1. He was able to save it, but the chain reaction that resulted saw Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson collide. The resulting wreck involved Hamlin, Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kurt and Kyle Busch, and Mark Martin. All six drivers were eliminated.

The wreck left just 12 cars still running. From that point on, the race was a little more conservative. Stewart was still very strong despite his skid, winning the first segment by passing Kenseth on the last lap. The fan-mandated four-tire pit stop under the yellow saw Kevin Harvick come out first and take the lead.

From here on in, Harvick and Stewart controlled the race. Stewart got by Harvick for the lead shortly after the green came back out, but Harvick was able to get him back shortly afterwards.

In the final segment, Harvick was out front and controlled the action fairly easily. The field, which had run much of the evening in two lines, side-by-side, stretched out into one line of drivers. Ambrose and Juan Pablo Montoya were dropped by the main draft and left to fend for themselves. Kenseth was mired back in eighth and ended up nearly losing the draft while trying to gain spots.

On the final lap, Biffle attempted a move on the backstretch for the lead, but Harvick blocked it. From there, Harvick was able to keep the field at bay to win his third Sprint Unlimited.

Afterwards, Harvick was very pleased with his performance, but wasn’t really sure if he learned anything in the race.

“I think [that with] 19 cars, you knew it was going to be a smaller race than normal anyway,” Harvick said. “But when you saw [seven] cars get eliminated, you knew you were going to have to be pretty precise to make a good move.”

Biffle held on for second, while Joey Logano finished third in his racing debut with Penske Racing. Stewart was fourth and Kenseth was able to come back up to finish fifth.

Danica Patrick Wins Daytona 500 Pole, Makes History In Process

At Daytona International Speedway, the driver doesn’t really play all that much of a role when it comes to actually qualifying the car. All they have to do is keep the car pointed in the correct direction and keep the pedal to the metal. As a result, qualifying is more of a setup exercise, along with the luck of the draw. Normally, teams that are fast off of the truck will contend for the pole.

Sunday afternoon was no different. However, having the top runners more or less hold station in qualifying created history.

Danica Patrick was fastest overall in the practice sessions on Saturday, turning the only lap that exceeded 196 mph. On Sunday, she drew an early number and took full advantage of it. Patrick turned in a lap of 45.817 seconds (196.434 mph) to win the pole for the 54th running of the Daytona 500. It is her very first pole in the Sprint Cup Series in her 11th attempt. It is also the very first pole won by a woman in Sprint Cup Series history.

Following her lap, Patrick was very happy, and gave her team the appropriate credit.

“I appreciate the recognition, but it really falls…90 percent on Tony [Gibson] and his guys, everybody that gives me the car to go out there and be fast, and maybe ten percent on me,” Patrick said in her press conference. “All I have to do is think about going out there, being smooth, not letting the car bind up, [and] running on the yellow line.”

Second quickest on Sunday was Jeff Gordon, just three hundredths of a second slower than Patrick. Gordon was very happy with his run and predicts greatness for the rest of Speedweeks.

“This is big, to be on the front row at Daytona,” Gordon said. “It’s an accomplishment in itself just because of how many people put so much hard work into it, not just from our team but all the teams that are out there.

Trevor Bayne qualified third quickest, while Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart rounded out the top-5. Kasey Kahne was sixth quickest, the final driver guaranteed a place in the Daytona 500 by qualifying speed at least. Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin were seventh and eighth, then Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top-10.

From Sunday’s round of qualifying, only the front row is officially set in stone for the Daytona 500. The qualifying order from Sunday set the starting lineup for the two Budweiser Duels scheduled for Thursday afternoon.

Budweiser Duel No. 1 Starting Grid

Row 1: 10 Danica Patrick 21 Trevor Bayne
Row 2: 14 Tony Stewart 11 Denny Hamlin
Row 3: 22 Joey Logano 88 Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Row 4: 42 Juan Pablo Montoya 13 Casey Mears
Row 5: 99 Carl Edwards 56 Martin Truex, Jr.
Row 6: 48 Jimmie Johnson 2 Brad Keselowski
Row 7: 29 Kevin Harvick 16 Greg Biffle
Row 8: 38 David Gilliland 26 Michael Waltrip
Row 9: 78 Kurt Busch 95 Scott Speed
Row 10: 51 Regan Smith 47 Bobby Labonte
Row 11: 83 David Reutimann 87 Joe Nemechek
Row 12: 52 Brian Keselowski

Budweiser Duel No. 2 Starting Lineup

Row 1: 24 Jeff Gordon 39 Ryan Newman
Row 2: 5 Kasey Kahne 18 Kyle Busch
Row 3: 20 Matt Kenseth 17 Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
Row 4: 27 Paul Menard 33 Austin Dillon
Row 5: 15 Clint Bowyer 31 Jeff Burton
Row 6: 1 Jamie McMurray 9 Marcos Ambrose
Row 7: 43 Aric Almirola 55 Mark Martin
Row 8: 34 David Ragan 35 Josh Wise
Row 9: 98 Michael McDowell 32 Terry Labonte
Row 10: 7 Dave Blaney 36 J.J. Yeley
Row 11: 93 Travis Kvapil 19 Mike Bliss

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