Heading into the final miles of the first Daytona 150: Kevin Harvick, dogged by Greg Biffle, Martin Truex Jr., and Jimmie Johnson (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.
No thrills, no chills, no passing.
Just methodically logging laps, and trying not to tear up the equipment.
That's summing up how drivers played Thursday's pair of 150-mile qualifiers for Sunday's Daytona 500.
Blah, blah, blah.
Gentlemen, start your yawns.
Kevin Harvick won again, and again he made it look easy, outsprinting Greg Biffle to win Thursday's first 150, about the same way he beat Biffle to win Saturday night's shootout.
And Kyle Busch won the second 150. "Hard to pass the leader, so just stay out front if you can get out front, and let track position take care of you. Not a lot of lane-to-lane racing," Busch said after a no-problem run. "I don't know what we have to do to get two lanes going out there, but we've got figure that out."
Jeff Gordon dominated that race until a pit road speeding penalty cost him a pass-through; he finished 12th.
But, hey, the big story -- Danica Patrick? Well, sorry, she was a bust.
The woman who won the pole Sunday for next Sunday's Daytona 500 never led a lap Thursday, though she started from the front row. And she finished a distant 17th. Only one driver still on the lead lap was behind her at the finish.
This is getting old for Carl Edwards (99), his fourth Daytona crash. And Denny Hamlin (11) wasn't happy either. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
To say there was little drama Thursday is understatement.
Drivers have been skittish about tearing up these new 2013s, because parts and pieces are in short supply. And the new cars have a lot less rear-end downforce than last year's cars here, a design built in on purpose by NASCAR to keep drivers from push-drafting or tandem-drafting.
So when Carl Edwards crashed Thursday for the fourth time -- once in January testing, again in practice Thursday, again in Wednesday practice -- everyone else clearly chilled.
Trevor Bayne, the fastest Ford driver here, led much of the first 150, but got stuck midpack after a round of pit stops. And when Denny Hamlin, oddly, lost it coming off the second corner, triggering a crash, Bayne had nowhere to go. Bayne and Edwards were both thus forced to backup cars for the 500.
Hamlin's explanation: "We got in a five-car pack and we came up on Casey Mears and Carl. I think they were trying to figure out a way to keep us back there and stop our momentum. We all had a big head of steam up top.
"Carl came up a hair, and I came down a little bit, and I got loose and turned him, and got Trevor involved.
"It just shows any kind of bad aero position you put yourself in, your car can be vulnerable.
"You really can't get close to each other side-by-side in the corners."
Edwards: "This is the worst SpeedWeeks start I have ever had. I don't think I have crashed this many cars in two years."
"I don't know exactly how come Denny got sideways. He was out there on my right-rear. I am sure it was as much a surprise to him as anyone.
"It looked like Denny got sideways and wrecked us. That is the fourth time we have wrecked since we have been down here... and the 500 hasn't even started."
His assessment for the 500: "I think you saw today exactly what that 500 will look like."
Kevin Harvick leads Greg Biffle to the finish line (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Bayne was not happy: "It looked like Denny got loose in front of us coming off turn two.
"He got really sideways and clipped Carl and spun him in front of us, and we had nowhere to go."
Bayne's assessment of the 500 looming: "You have to stay in line, and the top lane is the fastest, and wherever the majority of cars go they can make a run at it."
Patrick did fare better, in that she didn't crash. But otherwise she was a no-show in the sprint.
Biffle, up front down the stretch of the first 150, as he was in Saturday night's shootout, could again do nothing with Harvick.
"Everyone says 'why didn't you turn him?' But it takes no talent to spin someone and crash 20 cars....." Biffle says.
NASCAR after the race penalized Martin Truex Jr., running third, to last on the lead lap for not pitting when his side window fell out.
Truex's side window issue was the second time here that such an usual problem has occurred during a race.
"The side window flew out on the last lap," Truex said. "The latches came undone with 20 laps; we're trying to figure out if the latches came undone first, or if the window tray broke and made the latches come loose."
The weather was perfect Thursday, 72 degrees and sunny, just it's expected to be Sunday.
Unfortunately the racing was too uneventful. Whether that may prompt any moves by NASCAR isn't clear.
Michael Waltrip, supporting the Sandy Hook Support Fund (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Busch seemed surprised by the problems drivers had trying to pass. There wasn't really a pass for the lead on the track under green except during pit stops.
"There's something weird going on with the aero," Busch says, referring to "insecurity in traffic.
"Maybe that's why we all ran single-file."
Patrick conceded she just went to the back of the pack and rode around.
"It's not an exciting mission when you've just got to bring it home," she said. "But it is for the Daytona 500, you've got to keep that in mind.
"I learned the outside is strong and carries good momentum.
"I learned you need some friends.
"I also learned you can't be too tight, which mine was.
"But we wanted to be conservative; we didn't want to have any issues.
"I'll be really honest, I didn't feel I got a lot of great experience on how to pass, or the draft.
"I hate coming to the end like that and just laying back on those starts. That's not fun.
"But it's also really ignorant to drive up into the pack and be part of an accident for absolutely no reason.
"I really need to go down to Harvick's bus and figure out what he's got going on. Because he's got it figured out."
Kyle Busch celebrates his victory in the second 150 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a mediocre day too.
The single-file racing? "I think it is exactly what you are going to see," Earnhardt said looking ahead to the 500.
"You'll see a lot of racing: Single-file around the bottom some, single-file around the top some. Then all of a sudden everybody will start racing for no apparent reason. Then it'll go back to running single file for a while.
"We don't really dictate that as driver. The field really is at the mercy of the guys up front. If those guys up front chose to race a certain way, the field sort of has to follow suit."
When Biffle found himself on the front row, inside, next to Harvick for the final restart of his 150, with four laps to go, "I thought I was dead in the water," Biffle said.
"He won the Sprint Unlimited (Saturday) like that. I went all the way to the back when I started on the inside, worked my way all the way back to second. I was hoping that wasn't going to happen today.
"But if the bottom line wouldn't have gotten going (Thursday), I probably wouldn't have been where I was."
Wipeout No. 4 at Daytona for Carl Edwards (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Busch, like most, was frustrated only the top lane really worked.
"Paul Menard tried to make the 'bottom' come up," Busch said. "Never could get it to go.
"I tried it there |one time. I knew there wasn't a gap for me to get back in line....
"But I didn't have much to lose. I only had two cars behind me. So I figured, what the heck? I might as well give it a try and see what happens."
It didn't. But then Busch didn't have the rest of a full 43-car field to worry about. That may make drivers even more reluctant to try moves in the 500.
Going into the final miles it was shaping up as a one-two finish for Joe Gibbs, with Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth, working smoothly together.
However the final lap at least Kasey Kahne made it interesting, working Busch hard. That was after Kenseth had been shuffled out. "They knew Matt wasn't going to make the move," Busch said. "I was hoping Matt was mirror-driving just as much as I was, to keep those guys behind him.... then I would go wherever he needed to go, to protect his position. That just didn't work out.
"Once those guys got by Matt, I concentrated on what was going on in my mirror."
Victorious. But can Kyle Busch take Kevin Harvick in the 500? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)