DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – A four-leaf clover given to Kevin Harvick by his son Keelan prior to Thursday night’s first Gander RV Duel at Daytona Int’l Speedway may just have been the lucky charm that Harvick needed.
Harvick dominated a relatively-calm 60-lap sprint at the World Center of Racing en route to his second Daytona 500 qualifying race win, placing him third on the grid for Sunday’s 61st Daytona 500.
The 2014 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion cycled to the lead on lap 17 after a round of green-flag pit stops and never gave up the top spot again, pacing the final 44 circuits en route to victory.
Harvick raced to the line uncontested as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Paul Menard battled side-by-side for second, taking the checkered flag in front his Ford rivals by .165 of a second.
“I knew our Busch Beer Ford was fast, and it was good that we had Stenhouse and the 21 (Menard) behind us,” said Harvick in victory lane. “I knew that we all wanted a Ford to get to victory lane. I’m just glad we finally came out on the right side of it and everything’s not torn up.
“Everyone who’s touched these superspeedway cars, they’ve been great. Switching over to the Mustang is a big deal and a win is a great way to get Speedweeks not started, but going in a good direction by heading into victory lane.”
Stenhouse edged out Menard for the runner-up spot at the finish line by .007 of a second, telling SPEED SPORT after the race that the right run “just never materialized” for him to mount a charge on Harvick.
“I spent the last 25 laps just trying to figure out how to time it right to where I could get a run on Kevin (Harvick), and I just couldn’t seem to time it,” said Stenhouse. “We didn’t have as many cars out here tonight as we will have come Sunday, so that will change things. All in all, this is a really strong night for us. We wanted to be in victory lane, but we learned a lot and I think we can make our car better.”
The Toyotas of Matt DiBenedetto and Martin Truex Jr. completed the top five, followed by Bubba Wallace, Chris Buescher, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman and Ryan Preece.
The only incident during the first Duel came on lap 26, when Johnson got into the left-rear quarterpanel of Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Toyota, sending Busch spinning on the backstretch.
In the battle to make the Daytona 500, Parker Kligerman narrowly held off Tyler Reddick and Ryan Truex to race his way into Sunday’s starting field.
The 28-year-old New Jersey native lagged back to Busch, a lap down after his incident with Johnson, and with Busch’s help was able to draft back up to and ultimately pass Reddick with two laps to go, finishing 12th overall in the 21-car field.
Though he finished 13th and behind Kligerman in Duel No. 1, Reddick is in the 500 field by virtue of his qualifying time from last Sunday.
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