DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — NASCAR’s sixth-generation car — the Gen-6 — seemed to usher in a return to pack racing in restrictor-plate events at Daytona International Speedway, where it’s tough to make up ground on the leader.
That was evident after Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch won their heats in Thursday’s Budweiser Duel, a pair of 150-mile, 60-lap qualifying races that set the 43-car grid for Sunday’s 55th Daytona 500.
Harvick and Busch will start on the second row, in the third and fourth positions, respectively.
With the front row already set, the next 30 positions were determined by the top 15 finishers in each heat. The next four spots went to the fastest during last Sunday’s pole qualifications, with the last seven drivers earning provisional starts.
In an encore performance of his victory in Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited, Harvick went to the front of the pack on Lap 37 and led the final 23 laps to hold off runner-up Greg Biffle (also second in the Unlimited) and third-place Juan Pablo Montoya.
“It’s been a great start to Speedweeks, obviously with the Unlimited,’’ said Harvick, driver of the No. 29 Chevrolet fielded by Richard Childress Racing. “Obviously everybody thought we would qualify a little bit better, but we felt really good about our car [Wednesdayafter practice and felt like we could make some moves.’’
Busch, who led twice for 19 laps, wrested the lead from Clint Bowyer with eight laps to go. He went on to hold off runner-up Kasey Kahne and rookie driver Austin Dillon, the grandson of car owner Richard Childress, who finished third.
Back of the packs
Front-row starters Danica Patrick and Jeff Gordon, the fastest two qualifiers during last Sunday’s pole qualifications, struggled after starting from the pole in their duels.
Patrick finished 17th, while Gordon finished 12th after leading 38 of the first 39 laps.
“It’s not an exciting mission when you’ve just got to bring it home,’’ said Patrick, who quickly went to the rear of the field after 11 laps. “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.’’
Gordon was hit with a stop-and-go penalty after he was caught speeding as he exited pit road. He was stunned to learn of the infraction.
“I got one?’’ Gordon said when crew chief Alan Gustafson radioed him with the news. “Well we’ve got a problem with the tachometer because I was way under.’’
Show of support
Saying he was “carrying the hopes and dreams of a lot of good people,’’ two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip qualified the No. 26 Sandy Hook School Support Fund Toyota with his 14th-place finish in the first duel. “We needed to make it for the folks in Newtown, Conn.,’’ Waltrip said. “We wanted to have something for them to smile about on Sunday and now they do.’’ . . . In the first duel, Denny Hamlin triggered the biggest crash when he spun out coming off Turn 2 and tagged Carl Edwards’s right rear quarter panel, causing a four-car melee on Lap 54 that also involved Trevor Bayne and Regan Smith . . . Scott Speed, who last started the Daytona 500 three years ago, earned the right to make his third career start only after Martin Truex Jr. was black-flagged on the next-to-last lap for a safety violation when his side window came loose. Speed crossed the finish line in 16th, one spot out, but capitalized on Truex’s penalty to slide into 15th . . . Josh Wise, who finished 16th in the second duel, and Dillon will be the only two drivers making their Daytona 500 debuts Sunday . . . Mike Bliss, who finished 22d after he was hit with a safety violation, when his window net came loose during the second duel, and Brian Keselowski, the older brother of reigning Sprint Cup champion Brad, finished 21st out of 23 cars in the first duel, failing to qualify for the 500 . . . Joie Chitwood, president of Daytona International Speedway, said next year’s Budweiser Duel will be held under the lights and televised by Fox Feb. 20.Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.