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KEVIN HARVICK - Sprint Unlimited Race Report
Event: NASCAR Sprint Unlimited (non-points event)
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Location: Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway (2.5-mile oval)
Start/Finish: 6th/5th (Running, completed 75 of 75 laps)
Winner: Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing (Toyota)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), was able to overcome a midrace incident that caused heavy right-side damage to his black-and-white machine to finish fifth in the Sprint Unlimited non-points NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Saturday at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
Harvick earned entry into the exhibition race by virtue of his pole at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City last October and by being a three-time winner (2009, 2010 and 2013) of the Sprint Unlimited, which used to be known as the Budweiser Shootout. Only 2013 pole winners and past winners of the Sprint Unlimited earned entry into the race.
Harvick started sixth in the 18-car field after a fan vote determined that the starting lineup would be set by Friday night’s final practice speeds. It took the Bakersfield, Calif., native just 17 laps to race his way to the front of the field, where he battled for the remainder of the first segment. An incident involving the No. 48 of Jimmie Johnson saw the first segment end under the caution flag, with Harvick scoring second.
After making a pit stop under the caution period to take on right side tires and fuel, Harvick lined up in the second position to start the second segment. After being shuffled to the back of the pack on lap 33, a multicar incident occurred in front of his No. 4 Chevrolet on lap 35 that proved unavoidable for the three-time Sprint Unlimited winner. Harvick brought his battered racecar to the attention of the Jimmy John’s crew multiple times over the lengthy cleanup period, where numerous adjustments and repairs were made in an effort to get Harvick back on track. Unfortunately, a tire rub and major right-front fender damage saw Harvick lose the draft, but he was able to complete the second segment in the ninth position.
During the third and final segment came other opportunities to hit pit road, where crew chief Rodney Childers called for numerous adjustments and additional repairs. A number of incidents allowed the Jimmy John’s crew to keep tweaking the racecar, and Harvick was able to advance as high as the second position with just two laps remaining. Harvick was shuffled to the fifth position as the field took the checkered flag.
“We had a really good car,” Harvick said. “We led several laps in the beginning. Then on that restart in the second segment, we couldn’t get organized and wound up getting shuffled to the back. We got to the back, and then they had the wreck, and we hit the wall and bent the splitter up. It wouldn’t go through the corner, and we about got lapped. We kept working on it and working on it, and the next thing you know, it was at least drivable and I could hold it wide open again. Heck, at one point coming to the white flag, I thought we were going to win the race. So it was a great night for our Jimmy John’s guys. It kind of turned into a team building exercise from all angles. Aside from all of us wanting to win the race, to come out of here with a fifth-place finish and do all the things they did to the car to make it go was pretty awesome.”
Harvick’s SHR teammates Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick were all eliminated in the multicar accident on lap 35.
Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet SS, was credited with an 11th-place finish. He earned his way into the race by being a three-time winner of the Sprint Unlimited (2001, 2002 and 2007).
Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, finished 14th. He won the Sprint Unlimited in 2011.
Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS, wound up 16th. Patrick earned a spot in the race by winning the pole for last year’s Daytona 500.
Denny Hamlin won the Sprint Unlimited. It was his second win in the non-points race, with his first victory coming in 2006.
Brad Keselowski finished .197 of a second behind Hamlin in the runner-up spot, while Kyle Busch, Logano and Harvick rounded out the top-five. Jamie McMurray, Marcos Ambrose, Ryan Newman, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kenseth comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were five caution periods for 13 laps, with 10 drivers failing to finish.
Next up for SHR is qualifying for the 56th annual Daytona 500, where Stewart, Patrick, Harvick and Busch will be among 49 drivers going for the pole. Qualifying is set to get under way at 1 p.m. EST on Sunday, Feb. 16, with live coverage provided by FOX. The Budweiser Duel – twin 150-mile races that will set the rest of the Daytona 500 field – takes place at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 20, with live coverage on FOX Sports 1. Budweiser Speedweeks at Daytona then culminates with the Daytona 500 at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 23, with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its prerace show at noon.