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Kurt Busch wins the first Daytona 150 qualifying, getting the top starting spot for Sunday's 500

  Kurt Busch at the line, winning Thursday's first 150-mile qualifying over Regan Smith (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern


   Kurt Busch, with a lot of help from Regan Smith, ripped away from the field in a two-lap green-white-checkered finish to win Thursday's first 150-mile qualifier, which will put Busch on the 'pole' for the Sunday start of the Daytona 500. "And I'd say it'd be hard not to pick us as the favorite for the 500 now," Busch said.

   Dale Earnhardt, who finished eighth in the first 150, is the official 500 pole winner, but his crash in Wednesday practice forced him to a backup car and will put him at the rear of the 500 field for the green.
   NASCAR tweaked the rules before this race to try to break up the two-car packs, which have been the big factor at Talladega the past year and which were a major factor in Saturday night's Shootout. NASCAR apparently feels fans would prefer the traditional larger drafting pack instead to the two-man 'sack race' racing seen here so far.
   However two-car packs were again the dominant factor in Thursday's 150, with drivers pairing off even on the first lap.
   And speeds, despite an even smaller engine restrictor plate, were still way over 200 mph at times, according to some reports, as much as 205 mph.
   And Kevin Harvick still amazed everyone with how many laps he could run behind a 'teammate,' without having to pull out and breathe his engine or to make the 'swap.'
   But the possibility of more blown engines than usual remains high for the 500, in talking with drivers and engine builders.   
   "I don't know what the breaking point is, but we went up to 270 degrees by mistake Wednesday, and it was okay," Busch's crew chief Steve Addington said. "And then I heard Dale Jr.'s crew chief tell him he could run it up to 290, which I thought was a little much. "
   Busch, who won the Shootout too, says "it's been a great ride through SpeedWeeks. But you need a great drafting partner. I had in Regan Smith today, and in Jamie McMurray Saturday.
   "But I can't get too far ahead of myself because this is Daytona and it can bite you really quick.
   "The racing -- this is a new era at Daytona. I'm still learning here. You just try to bank as much information as you can."
   For a long time it appeared the Matt Kenseth-Kevin Harvick 'team' was the one to beat, but swapping spots didn't work quite that well late in the race. And on the final two-lap sprint Busch got a good push from Smith at the start and the two spurted far ahead of the field in less than half a lap. Smith tried two moves on the trioval the last lap but it was too little too late, without trying to push Busch out of the way. So Smith again played the nice guy, rather than rough up Busch.
   "We had a general feeling on what would happen that final restart," Busch said.
   "The 2-car thing started at Talladega when it got repaved...and there's no way we could be doing this here without the repave," Addington said. "The repave has brought this to Daytona."
   NASCAR has made several tweaks to slow speeds here in all three divisions, Cup, Nationwide and Truck, because it doesn't like the speeds it's seeing.  NASCAR, for example, has changed the engine rules for the Nationwide teams here three times in the last few days, to try to slow speeds.


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