- Associated Press - Thursday, February 21, 2013

DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. (AP) - Perfect so far at Speedweeks, Kevin Harvick has positioned himself as the favorite to win the Daytona 500.

It’s the last label he wanted.

“We like to be the lame-duck underdog. That’s what we’re shooting for,” Harvick said.

Harvick won the first Daytona 500 qualifying race on Thursday to make it 2 for 2 at Daytona International Speedway, where he also won an exhibition race last weekend. It positions Harvick, the 2007 Daytona 500 winner, as a top contender in Sunday’s season-opening “Great American Race.”


It comes at a time when Harvick has found a balance in his life with the addition of son, Keelan, who was born last July, and as he heads into his final season with Richard Childress Racing. Harvick has already decided to move to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014.

“We’ve been fortunate to win the first two races of Speedweeks. We’ve just got to keep a level head on our shoulders, not get too high over what we’ve done, just do the same things that we’ve done,” he said. “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.”

Harvick held off Greg Biffle over a four-lap sprint to win the first 150-mile Budweiser Duel, with the second race held later Thursday afternoon. Harvick and Biffle also went 1-2 in last Saturday night’s exhibition race.

The starting field for the Daytona 500 is set by the results from the pair of 60-lap qualifiers, but Danica Patrick held onto the pole by running a safe race in the first qualifier. The first woman to win a pole at NASCAR’s top level, Patrick earned the top starting spot in time trials last weekend.

She started first in the qualifier, raced a bit early, then faded back to run a conservative race and ensure she’ll start first in the 500.

“I hate coming to the end like that and just lagging back,” she said. “That’s not fun. But it’s also really ignorant to go drive up into the pack and be part of an accident for absolutely no reason. You’re really not going to learn much there.”

Patrick wound up 17th out of 23 cars.

“What I really feel like I need to do is go down to the Harvick bus and see what he’s doing,” she said. “He’s got it going on down here.”

The first race was dull until Denny Hamlin brought out the only caution with seven laps remaining. Hamlin lost control of his car, spun into Carl Edwards and triggered a four-car accident that also collected Regan Smith and Trevor Bayne, who had a dominant car early in the qualifier.

“I know what the wrecks look like now, I am really familiar with them,” said Edwards, who was wrecked at testing in January and in practice for the exhibition race last week. He was also black-flagged in the exhibition race when his window net fell off.

Hamlin said the accident was a product of drivers trying to learn the nuances of NASCAR’s new Gen-6 car.

Story Continues →