Kevin Harvick opened the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season driving his Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet to victory in Saturday night's Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway.
Harvick held off Greg Biffle and Joey Logano to score his third career win in the annual exhibition race that traditionally kicks off Speedweeks.
“I could see those guys, the No. 16 (Greg Biffle) in the middle-half there and then the No. 14 (Tony Stewart) they were kind of timing it as to how far they needed to get back to that that dive to the bottom, but with the top there you could guard the bottom if they didn’t get all the way by you with the side draft and that’s really what you were looking for,” Harvick said of the mad dash to the checkered flag.
“I was really kind of nervous about the No. 20 (Matt Kenseth) and the No. 14, I thought their cars were a little bit faster than what we had.”
The Richard Childress Racing driver joined Tony Stewart and Dale Jarrett as three-time winners of the race.
Harvick led a race-high 40 of the 75 laps race that was broken into three segments.
Harvick, who will leave RCR at season’s end for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, said the win proves there will be no issues during his “lame duck” season with the team.
“I think it's one of those deals, where, for us, it's about winning races,” said Harvick. “The politics and everything are one thing, but when we get to the racetrack it's about sitting in this race car making it as fast as it will go. And those guys, they don't care about anything but winning and wanting to do good, so we owe it to them and everybody at Budweiser. I guess we had to take their name off the race to win it, so it was an awesome day for us.”
Biffle came up short in his charge to get around Harvick at the finish line but felt he had a car capable of pulling off the win.
“I did,” said Biffle. “Kevin did what he had to do to win that race. I didn’t think there was room to stick it in there. I thought we would end up wrecked. I looked in the mirror and I didn’t have any help. I was against his bumper but couldn’t do anything. I am happy to come home with second. I have been close so many times here at Daytona. It would feel nice to win one.”
Stewart and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top five.
"I thought it was good,” Kenseth said of his first start for Joe Gibbs Racing. “We were able to make some moves. We were able to lead a little bit. We were in the very back a little bit. I think we learned a lot about it. It was a little tough to pass when everybody was committed to the top, but that was just really because everybody was committed to the top.
“Overall, I felt great about it. I wish we had a little better result, but our car was real fast there and everything went pretty smooth."
Aric Almirola, Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr. and Juan Pablo Montoya completed the first ten finishers.
The race ignited fireworks in the opening segment when only 14 laps in a multi-car crash swept up Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and defending race winner Kyle Busch.
“Gosh, we didn't get far along, did we?" said Martin of the accident that was triggered when Stewart clipped Marcos Ambrose. “I just saw a car get sideways. Somebody got sideways and then the cars up high tangled for some reason."
Kyle Busch, who wound up finishing 16th, was also surprised the tight racing that triggered the wreck happened so early.
“”It stinks it was 15 laps into the race,” said Busch. “There’s still a long way to go. We’re all learning and trying to figure out how we can pass with these things and what we have to do to make moves and everything. Too many too early right now.”
Fans were able to vote on several aspects of the race including the length of each segment, what teams could do on the first pit stop between segments one and two (four tires) and how many drivers would be eliminated, which was zero.
Speedweeks continues with Sunday’s Daytona 500 qualifying session.