Daytona Beach, Fla. – On an unseasonably cool Saturday evening in Florida, Kevin Harvick raced to victory in the 75-lap Sprint Unlimited, a non-points event for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
The race was run in segments of 30, 25 and 20 laps with fans deciding such things as number of tires to be changed and the outfit worn by Miss Sprint in victory lane.
Driving the Budweiser Chevrolet, Harvick captured this event for the third time in five years. He earned $205,000 for the victory and joined Tony Stewart and Dale Jarrett as three- time winners. The late Dale Earnhardt leads with six victories.
The victor led 40 of the 75 laps.
The great thing is that we are back in victory lane at Daytona.
“We knew the racing would be different (because of new car) because we had not run in packs,” the victor said. “It reminds me of the package we ran 10 or 11 years ago. In driver introductions, there wasn’t one driver that thought they knew how their cars were going to work. But the great thing is that we are back in victory lane at Daytona.”
With only 19 cars in the race, Harvick thought the teams didn’t learn as much as they could have with a larger field. “There weren’t enough cars, so there’s a lot more to learn. The bottom lane will have more cars in it, and they will be able to move and shift a lot easier,” he commented.
Added crew chief Gil Martin, “Kevin and these guys show that hard work pays off, considering the things we have been up against. I am very proud of the job Kevin did, the Chevrolet SS was strong and the guys did a great job and the guys on pit road gave us the lead going out and putting us into the lead.”
Team owner Richard Childress took delight in the outcome. “Winning the race out of the gate was really good for us,” he said. “To win the first race with the Chevy SS is a big deal for us and to win the Unlimited with the fans involved, I thought that was really great. I told Kevin before the race ‘You know how to do it, and I don’t have to tell you nothing.’ I couldn’t be more proud of the whole organization, and we hope this is just the start of good things to happen for the next few days.”
“Things went pretty well even though we were short on speed,” the Ford driver said. “There was a group of cars that were faster than us, so I had to stay in line. I had a great opportunity to make a run on the No. 29 (Harvick), but he closed the door on me, which is what he needed to do to win the race. I thought about sticking it in there but there would be sparks and parts flying if I had. Also, I didn’t have anybody pushing me, but there was no one there.”
Third went to Joey Logano, who drove the Shell Pennzoil Ford for the first time.
Said the young driver, “I think things went pretty smooth for our team, which needed to get a race under our belt for the first time. This race was a lot like a pre-season football game, it is a pre-season race where we can work some things out. It was a good solid finish and a good way to start my career with the (Penske Racing) team.
“The cars were all pretty equal, and it was hard to make a move. But I did make a move at the end, going from seventh to third, although I didn’t have enough speed to go for the lead. I was just hoping the front two would wreck, but they didn’t.”
The action took place in turn 2 when Stewart elected to change lanes without warning, triggering an accident that sidelined six cars. Caught up in the wreck were Kurt and Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Denny Hamlin.
Taking the blame, Stewart said, “I got a big run on the No. 20 (Kenseth), and I went to the bottom. I thought I was clear. The spotter did not clear me, so I went on my own. I thought I had enough of a run to clear the third-place guy, and I probably clipped him. I was probably a little anxious too early, but I was having fun moving forward and felt racy.”
Said Johnson, “I was just cruising along and I saw sparks in front of me, which I knew wasn’t good. Before I knew it, the cars inside of me just slid up the track and into me.”
Kyle Busch noted, “We got sandwiched into the fence and just chaos ensued. We hit every corner on this thing.”
In the early-going, a multi-car wreck eliminated seven cars, including those of Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon.
Fifth place went to Matt Kenseth, who probably had the strongest car but couldn’t find anyone to work with him at the end. Driving the Dollar General Toyota for the first time, the Wisconsin driver led 20 laps.
“I think we had a really strong car,” he said. “I feel really great about our car, and I wish I was standing down there in victory lane. We almost had it two or three times, but once we got three-wide, it just stalled the bottom out.”
Rounding out the top-10 finishers were Aric Almirola, Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr. and Juan Pablo Montoya.
The next activity for the Sprint Car competitors will be qualifying for Daytona 500, which will take place Sunday afternoon.