Daytona 500 qualifying

Kenseth holds off Harvick in 1st Daytona 500 qualifying race

jutter@charlotteobserver.comFebruary 20, 2014 

— Joe Gibbs Racing keeps rolling along in Speedweeks.

Matt Kenseth held off a furious charge from Kevin Harvick to win the first 150-mile Daytona 500 qualifying race at Daytona International Speedway Thursday night.

Kenseth’s is the second victory for JGR drivers in as many races to start the 2014 season. Teammate Denny Hamlin won last Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited nonpoints event.

“I had a really strong (car) and Kevin (Harvick) is one of the best,” said Kenseth who won a Daytona qualifying race for just the second time in his career.

“Kevin, Tony (Stewart), there’s a few of those guys that you want to see behind you because you trust them to do the right things, but you also don’t because they’re so smart and I saw him laying back getting a run and he made the perfect move.

“2013 was awesome and this is a great way to start off 2014.”

Kenseth dominated much of the 60-lap race. He had moved into the lead by Lap 30 and cycled back into the lead after a round of green-flag pit stops with 25 laps remaining.

Harvick remained on Kenseth’s back bumper the remainder of the race and finally broke free on the last lap to make a run for the lead.

Kenseth, Harvick and Kasey Kahne crossed the finish line three-wide as Harvick came up just short.

“I want to win bad for everyone on my new team. It was really close,” Harvick said. “On Sunday we need to do the same thing and keep it rolling for 500 miles.

“I just had to go when the pack bunched up. We did it just a touch too late.”

Marcos Ambrose finished fourth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. fifth.

By virtue of their finishes, rookies Cole Whitt (12th) and Alex Bowman (15th) raced their way into the lineup for Sunday’s Daytona 500.

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