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February 17, 2013

Kevin Harvicks slick final-turn moves prove the difference in the Sprint Unlimited

"Nobody in the whole field had a clue what would happen," Harvick said, "so I figured we had a chance."

RCR/HHP Photo RCR/HHP Photo

Author: Jay Busbee
Source: YahooSports.com

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - In a newly named race with a new car and an odd new format, it was an old veteran who ended up with the trophy.

The 2013 Sprint Unlimited may not have been the most competitive of races — indeed, it often seemed about as fiercely fought as a split-squad spring training baseball game — but Kevin Harvick took control early on, dominated through the final two segments, and closed off the race with an absolutely perfect finishing move. Harvick has now won three of the last five Sprint Unlimited/Bud Shootout events, and appears to be one of the first drivers to have figured out the new Gen 6 car.

"Nobody in the whole field had a clue what would happen," Harvick said, "so I figured we had a chance."

NASCAR tried to inject some added life into the event by giving the fans power over the race format, the first pit stop and the possibility of elimination. But in every case, the fans took the most conservative approach, going for a balanced race length (30 laps/25/20), a full four-tire pit stop and no eliminations. (To be fair, an early wreck took out six of the best drivers, and Terry Labonte started-and-parked in an exhibition event, leaving only twelve cars.)

But the on-track result was more tentative than aggressive. Driver after driver tried to figure out exactly how the combination of Gen 6, a clean track and cool temperatures combined, and more often than not the pack slimmed into the dreaded single-car train. Only a few drivers — Harvick, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano — actually made moves throughout the race. And while Kenseth may have had the strongest car of the entire field, he wasn't able to get help to get a shove back up to the front, and ended up fifth.

But reaching Harvick is one thing; passing him is quite another. With Stewart challenging him low and Greg Biffle pushing high, Harvick pulled off a slick double-block, running three wide all by himself, to hold off both drivers. The only way to beat Harvick would have been to take him out, and neither driver was prepared to do that.

"When you're coming from white to checkered, it's whatever you take," Harvick said. "You get whatever you can. A game of chicken would be a good way to put it."

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