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A Favorite To Win The Daytona 500 Has Emerged

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, February 22 2013

Kevin Harvick has become the toast of Daytona Beach after winning twice already during Speedweeks. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Lame-duck driver Kevin Harvick’s performance during Budweiser Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway has been anything but lame.

After announcing last fall that his tenure of more than a decade with Richard Childress Racing will be coming to an end following the 2013 season, Harvick has suddenly become the most-talked about driver in the garage whose name isn’t Danica Patrick.

Five days after winning Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited, the Bakersfield, Calif. native jumped into a different No. 29 Chevrolet on Thursday and won his Budweiser Duel at Daytona race.

Harvick’s accomplishments has the motorsports world buzzing that the 2007 Daytona 500 champion might walk out of here Sunday night with another Harley J. Earl trophy.

And should Harvick pull off the feat, he would become the first driver to win the Sprint Unlimited, Budweiser Duel and 500 all in the same season.

So if there’s any early-season appearance of dissension at RCR over Harvick’s decision to exit the organization, it certainly isn’t showing in the results.

“I think as we approached the end of last year, obviously with (crew chief) Gil (Martin), the consistency of the guys, over the winter they knew exactly what they were going to do,” said Harvick, when asked on Thursday how

Kevin Harvick held off Greg Biffle to win Saturday night's Sprint Unlimited event at Daytona International Speedway. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

his status is impacting his team.

“Everybody was focused on building race cars. There wasn’t really any drama. The drama was over once Richard and I talked about everything that was going to happen at the end of this year. The emotional side of it was gone. Everything was pretty much done.”

After finishing second in Thursday’s second duel, Hendrick Motorsports driver Kasey Kahne all but annointed Harvick as the favorite to capture Sunday’s Great American Race. He added that he wouldn’t be surprised to see Harvick contend for the Sprint Cup title despite his short-term status.

“I think Kevin is always really good here,” Kahne said. “RCR is always really good at Daytona. He’s going to put in a full effort all season long. He’s a racer. He wants to run well.

“RCR wants to run well for their partners and everything else. I don’t seem them slacking this year. I think Harvick is going to be one of the guys to beat all season long.”

From a car owner’s perspective, the main objectives in lame duck cases include being able to maintain unity within the organization while offering a competitive effort. NASCAR team owner Joe Gibbs says it’s obvious that RCR is already accomplishing these goals with Harvick and the No. 29 team.

“I think what you got is great competitors,” Gibbs said. “You don’t want to certainly waste a year. You want to get a chance to race cars at the top level. I think there’s a competitive part of it.

“You know, you just see guys that are great competitors, go after it hard. I think that’s what’s going on over there. They got a heck of a race team. They got everything you need to be up front. You got a very talented driver. So I think it’s just part of it.

“We see it quite often in this sport. I think that’s kind of a tribute to the guys and their competitive spirit.”

If Daytona is an indication, Harvick, Martin and their team are a legitimate threat to win several races and this year’s championship even though the driver and crew will go their separate ways in late November.

“We both agreed to put all the effort in,” Harvick said. “From an RCR standpoint, they’re putting all the effort they can into it. I’m going to put all I can into it. Gil and these guys, they don’t care they just want to win races.

“They’re going to work on the car whether it’s a guy that’s going to be here for tomorrow or for 20 years.”

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, February 22 2013
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