Harvick wins opening Daytona duel

Make that two in a row.

Kevin Harvick continued to be the driver to watch at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday. Harvick won his Duel handily, following up his Saturday win in the Sprint Unlimited.

Michael Waltrip, driving for Swan Racing with a paint scheme honoring the Sandy Hook school shooting victims, raced into the final transfer spot to lock into Sunday’s Daytona 500 (Noon ET on FOX).

With four laps to go, Harvick and Greg Biffle led the field to green. Harvick had led the most recent segment, one interrupted by a multicar crash. He pulled to the front as Biffle and Jimmie Johnson raced side by side behind him.

Wood Brothers Racing’s Trevor Bayne pulled past polesitter Danica Patrick on the first lap when Denny Hamlin pushed him to the front. He quickly passed Patrick and her Stewart-Haas Racing teammate and co-owner Tony Stewart. He held the lead spot and settled in as the field lined up single file behind him.

Drivers settled in to the race with most racing single file quickly. Stewart and Patrick dropped to the rear of the field for the opening segment. And then everyone started picking up the pace. At the midway point, the battle for the transfer positions heated up quickly.

Bayne, meanwhile, continued to set the pace with Casey Mears riding on his bumper. On Lap 33, the inside line once more formed, with Kevin Harvick leading that group. They quickly began closing up on Bayne. By Lap 35, Harvick was alongside Mears. Behind that front trio, Brad Keselowski stormed up the middle and three lines were racing at Daytona once more.

On Lap 36, Harvick moved inside of Bayne and swept into the lead. Mears, Keselowski and Carl Edwards rolled three wide behind them with the pack now three wide. Harvick jumped across in front of Bayne to take the lead on Lap 37.

Green-flag pit stops began on Lap 37, shuffling the field and the fight for the transfer spot.

On Lap 41, Harvick and Bayne led most of the leaders to the pits. Bayne had trouble getting onto pit road and changed four tires on the stop, dropping him to 11th in the order. Harvick took two tires and held the lead through the stop, followed by Casey Mears, Greg Biffle, Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson. On Lap 44, Mears fell back to fifth.

Drivers once more settled in, with the front four pulling away – until the crash came.

On Lap 53, Edwards was running in the low line when Hamlin came down and into Edwards’ car. Bayne was behind Hamlin and had nowhere to go. He slowed dramatically and missed Hamlin and kept trying to avoid Edwards, but Edwards just kept spinning in front of him and Bayne had no way to keep from hitting him. Regan Smith, driving for Phoenix Racing, was also damaged in the incident.