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Kyle Busch crosses the finish line to win the Budweiser Duel 2. Busch will start in the second row next to Kevin Harvick. / Sam Sharpe, USA TODAY Sports

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Kevin Harvick is in his final year with Richard Childress Racing and he's off to a blazing start.

He said Thursday he has 7-month-old son Keelan to thank after winning the first of two 150-mile qualifying races that set the field for Sunday's Daytona 500.

Kyle Busch, who has never won the Daytona 500, won the second qualifying race.

"It's hard to pass the leader. When you can get out front you can run pretty good. There weren't enough lane-by-land racing here," Busch said.

Kasey Kahne tried to pass Busch on the last lap but had to settle for second.

"To win a a 500 would be amazing but would be really difficult at the same time," Kahne said. "We gained a lot at the Sprint race and we'd even more right now."

Danica Patrick started from the front spot and finished 17th, protecting her pole position for Sunday. She stayed in the back of the pack as the race ended. She will be the first woman to lead the 43-car field to start the Great American Race.

Her boyfriend, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished 14th in the second duel.

"I feel like going over to Harvick and seeing what he's got going on," Patrick said of Harvick, who also won Saturday night's Sprint Unlimited exhibition race.

"We've been fortunate to win the first two races," Harvick said. "We've just got to keep a level head and not get too high on what we've done. We definitely have the car and the team to be in contention to do that."

Michael Waltrip, a two-time Daytona 500 winner, raced his way into Sunday's field with a finish of 15th. Scott Speed also raced his way in.

Brad Keselowski, the defending Sprint Cup Series champion, finished seventh after suffering a fuel issue with his car during Wednesday's practice. His brother Brian missed making the field.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who had to sub an engine after practice, was ninth.

Harvick's son has been spotted in the driver's seat of the No. 29 before each race.

"It's added a new balance to my life," Harvick said of enjoying fatherhood and having Keelan and wife DeLana at the track. "I think it's made me better."

Crew chief Gil Martin agreed. "It's going to direct his focus on Sunday."

Now, Harvick will attempt the trifecta.

Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and 2011 Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne were caught up in a crash 10 laps from the end of the 60-lap event. Edwards and Bayne were knocked out of the race. Hamlin finished 20th.

Patrick fell to the back of the pack after a few laps and appeared to be feeling out the pack racing style as drivers continue to try to get acclimated to the new Gen 6 model.

"Tell (teammate) Tony (Stewart) that I can't stay close to these guys," Patrick said over the radio. "I keep having to lift."

Patrick received the largest reaction of the crowd as drivers were introduced. Dressed in a bright green firesuit, she waved at the crowd.

As the first qualifying race began, fans on an observation deck in the infield cheered when Bayne took the lead from Patrick on the backstretch during the first lap. One female fan screamed, "Go, Trevor!' When Patrick briefly regained the lead moments later, the crowd on the observation deck was quiet.

Race time temperature was 73 degrees.

Contributing: Jeff Olson



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Patrick protects start; Harvick, Busch win Duel

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