(Reuters) - Kevin Harvick positioned himself as one of the favorites for Sunday’s Daytona 500 by winning the first of two qualifying races on Thursday to claim the inside lane in the second row for the season-opening NASCAR race.
Danica Patrick had already clinched pole in qualifying trials last weekend to become the first woman to achieve that distinction, with Jeff Gordon alongside her on the first row.
Patrick played it safe on Thursday, racing with the pack early in the first ‘Duel’, one of two 150-mile, 60-lap races that finalized the grid for the Daytona 500, before easing back and finishing 17th out of 23 drivers, staying out of trouble to save her car for the race.
Harvick, who five days ago won The Sprint Unlimited exhibition race at the Daytona International Speedway, passed leader Trevor Bayne on Lap 37 and led the remaining 23 laps.
‘We didn’t come here to run 10th or 12th, wherever we were running,” said Harvick, who made his move on the inside lane. “We wanted to make something happen.”
Kyle Busch won the second race to secure the fourth spot on the grid alongside Harvick. Gordon had led for the first 40 laps before cruising through the last third of the race.
Greg Biffle, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch rounded out the top five in the first ‘Duel’.
Scott Speed finished 15th, the final spot that guaranteed an entry into the Daytona 500.
Finishing behind Busch in the second race were Kasey Kahne, Austin Dillon, Clint Bowyer and Matt Kenseth.
Both qualifiers had relatively peaceful racing, with the only caution flag coming on Lap 52 in the first race when Denny Hamlin bumped Carl Edwards, triggering a four-car crash.
The crash included Bayne, who had led for the majority of the race but will go to a back-up car and start from the rear on Sunday.
Reporting by Larry Fine, Editing by Greg Stutchbury