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Auto racing: Harvick outlasts thinned field, wins Sprint Unlimited on Saturday

Prelude to bliss for racing fans

Kevin Harvick (29) takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Kevin Harvick (29) takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday in Daytona Beach, Fla.

DAYTONA BEACH – The prelude to the Great American Race gave fans the usual feel of the restrictor-plate frenzy at Daytona International Speedway.

There was a big one – taking out seven cars just 15 laps into the revamped Sprint Unlimited Saturday night.

There was the big move (or one that wasn’t) in the final lap. And the shifty block by the winner.

Kevin Harvick outlasted Greg Biffle during the 75-lap three-segment shootout that showcased the new Gen 6 car model, NASCAR’s shiny new baby.

“Well, I was nervous about the 20 [Matt Kenseth] and the 14 [Tony Stewart],” Harvick said. “I thought their cars were a little bit better than what we had.’’

Harvick and the rest of the gang were trying to figure out the dynamics of a new car model, always a combustible mix.

The NASCAR Nation saw that come to fruition just 15 laps in when Tony Stewart tangled with Marcos Ambrose’s nose at the exit of Turn 2, triggering a typical Daytona melee. Although Stewart escaped unscathed, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin, Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch went bump in the night, leaving just 12 of the 19 cars that started the race in the mix.

By night’s end, the man in front was Harvick, who won for the third time in nine starts in this sprint race.

Harvick blocked a hesitant Biffle on the final lap for the win.

Beyond kicking off the 2013 NASCAR season, the race marked the debut of the Gen 6 model, replacing the highly despised Car of Tomorrow.

Early reviews were good, but the real deal comes a week from Sunday in the 55th running of the Daytona 500.

Patrick first woman to win Daytona 500 pole

Danica Patrick isn’t just dating one of the NASCAR boys.

She’s beating all of them.

Patrick became the first woman to earn the pole position in the history of the Daytona 500 by running a qualifying lap of 45.817 Sunday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway. Jeff Gordon was second.

“I can say I was the fastest guy today,” joked Gordon.

Indeed this is an ironic twist for anyone rolling their eyes at all the undue attention Danica was getting because of her relationship with fellow driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. There’s a lot more to love now other than her personal life.

“I’m proud of all the hard work that goes into making a pole,” she said. “It’s not just turning left.

“There’s a lot more left. The race is where it’s really at but this speaks volumes about Stewart Hass Racing. It shows what a great organization it is.”

In addition to setting a Daytona record, Patrick became the first woman in NASCAR to ever take a Sprint Cup pole. 

The 55th running of the Daytona 500 will feature a starting grid of 43 drivers. The rest of the field will be set during the twin qualifying races Thursday afternoon.

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