17 February 2013
Harvick victorious in first race of 2013
"Two days, two wrecked cars and only a few laps completed," contributed Kurt Busch after parking his #78 Furniture Row Racing car in pit lane. "It's been a disappointing start to say the least. But the good news is that we've had fast cars. If our luck can change we'll be competitive for the big show in next week's Daytona 500."
Martin Truex Jr. also sustained damage in the crash, but he was still able to continue, and Ambrose's car needed some work on it at the next pit stop to sort out some of the damage sustained in the initial contact with Stewart.
That wiped out a full third of the entries in the Unlimited, but apart from that one wreck the rest of the race went off according to plan. After the green flag flying at 8.30pm, the race had followed a 30/25/20-lap three segment format decided by a ballot of race fans. Other fan-decided aspects of the event included the selection of a full four-tyre pit stop at the end of the first segment, and no cars being eliminated before the final segment other than those already retired through race damage.
The vote starting order for the race saw the drivers line-up in the order in which they had won the 2012 pole position that made them eligible for the event in the first place. That would have put Carl Edwards and Mark Martin on the front row for the start, but an accident in practice on Friday meant that both men together with Kurt Busch had to drop to the back of the field before the start as a result of switching to back-up cars for the race.
Instead it was Greg Biffle who emerged as the initial leader, then Martin Truex Jr. put in a couple of laps in front before Matt kenseth emerged as the most dominant force by pushing to the front on lap 5 and maintaining the lead for the next 25 laps. However, that was one lap shy of making him the segment 1 winner, a surge down the backstretch on lap 30 assisted by a push from Kevin Harvick rewarding Stewart with the cash prize for getting to the line first.
The mandatory four-tyre pit stop saw Harvick win the top spot for the restart, followed by Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth. With just a single exception harvick led every lap of the rather quieter second segment and picked up the cash for winning the middle stint of the race followed by Biffle, Joey Logano, Stewart and Truex Jr.
The one moment of tension in the second segment had been a near-miss between Logano and fan favourite Dale Earnhardt Jr., which sent Earnhardt down the track in response and into light contact with Stewart's car. All three drivers survived the scare, although the #88 was slightly the worse for the experience.
Harvick and Kenseth resumed battle for the lead at the start of the third and final segment on lap 55; Kenseth did all he could on the inside line to take to the front at the green flag, but Harvick held him off with the advantage of having the outside position. One final push from Kenseth saw him poke the nose of the Joe Gibbs Racing #20 in front on lap 62, but it had taken everything he had and next time around it was Harvick back in charge again - and he stayed there for the remainder of the race thanks to some top-class blocking moves to ward off any threats.
On the final lap, the main threat to Harvick was Tony Stewart on the inside and Greg Biffle running on the outside, but Harvick managed to move his car around on the track enough to prevent either man getting a run on him to the chequered flag. Harvick's block on Stewart was enough to force the #14 to lose momentum to the extent that he lost positions to both Biffle and Logano and ended up in fourth place at the line.
“I wasn't quite sure exactly which move to make,” Stewart admitted of those final moments in the race. "I saw the #22 [Logano] coming on the bottom, I thought they were going fast enough that I needed to move down, but I should've stayed where I was," he said.
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