DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Kevin Harvick wrecked in the first practice of the season at Daytona International Speedway.
He was collected the next day in a 16-car crash triggered by Jimmie Johnson in the first race of Speedweeks.
It took his third time out, in his new Ford Mustang, for Harvick to finally get it right.
Harvick went unchallenged to win the first of two Daytona 500 qualifying races — a victory Thursday night that earned him a spot in the second row for the start of “The Great American Race.” The win was the first for Ford with the Mustang it will use in NASCAR’s top series this year.
“We tore up so many of these superspeedway cars, it’s just good to finally bring one to victory lane,” Harvick said.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished second and Paul Menard, who dominated an exhibition race Sunday until Johnson triggered the 16-car crash, was third in a 1-2-3 sweep for Ford teams. The podium represented three teams — Harvick from Stewart-Haas Racing, Stenhouse from Roush Fenway Racing and Menard from The Wood Brothers — and showed the commitment the Ford camp has made to work together to win Sunday’s main event.
Parker Kligerman, a part-time racer and commentator for NBC Sports, finished 12th but high enough to claim one of the transfer spots into the 40-car field.
Johnson, meanwhile, ended the event facing criticism for another on-track incident.
The seven-time champion went three-wide 25 laps into the race and it caused Kyle Busch to spin and bring out the caution. Johnson sent an apology through his team but Busch was unforgiving.
“Tell him I don’t want to hear it. Tell him to use his eyeballs. That’s twice in two races he’s done the same thing,” Busch said, using expletives to note that Johnson also caused a 16-car accident Sunday.
Johnson used an aggressive move in the Sunday exhibition race to get past Menard for the lead, and while it gave Johnson his first victory in more than a year, it wiped out most of the field. His incident with Busch was different circumstances, but Johnson was far more contrite than he was in the exhibition victory.
“I just got it wrong, clearly,” Johnson said. “I just misjudged that situation. That was a mistake, for sure.”
Joe Gibbs, team owner for Busch, was bothered by Johnson’s aggression.
“Everybody saw it. Not much I can say about it,” Gibbs said. “Everybody’s still trying to feel everything out but that messed us up right there.”