Matt Kenseth holds off Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne to win first Budweiser Duel

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — In an exciting three-wide finish, Matt Kenseth found a few extra horsepower when he needed it, passing Kevin Harvick and holding off a hard-charging Kasey Kahne to win Thursday’s first of two Budweiser Twin Duel 150s at Daytona International Speedway.

Kenseth beat Harvick to the finish line by a mere .022 seconds.

But perhaps the bigger stories were the unheralded drivers who qualified for Sunday’s Daytona 500, namely Josh Wise, Cole Whitt and Alex Bowman.

Wise finished sixth in the 24-car race, far ahead of luminaries such as Tony Stewart (11th), Greg Biffle (13th) and Danica Patrick (14th).

“It’s a big burden lifted off, for sure,” Wise said. “Sleep has been light this week, but my car was pretty good. We were able to get in that top lane and maintain.”

Whitt finished 12th in a car that was essentially rebuilt from Wednesday’s wreck that left his car on its hood. Whitt will make his first appearance in the Daytona 500 by virtue of Thursday night’s finish.

“My guys pulled together and made it happen,” Whitt said. “My hat’s off to them. To be in the Daytona 500 is something I’ve dreamed of my whole life.”

And Bowman came on strong at the end to finish 15th and make the field for the Great American Race.

“It’s a huge sigh of relief,” Bowman said. “It’s huge for me and my family. We’re in the Daytona 500.”

Kenseth appeared as if he’d finish runner-up when Harvick passed him on the backstretch of the final lap. But Kenseth reached back for some additional power and rallied to take the checkered flag.

Could Kenseth’s achievement be lightning striking again? He won one of the Duels in 2012 and then went on to win the Daytona 500 a few days later, his second triumph in the Great American Race.

“Maybe it makes up for the rest of the week,” Kenseth said. “The rest of week, I haven’t felt too coordinated.”

Harvick side-drafted Kenseth and took the lead, but as much as he snookered Kenseth, Harvick himself was a victim of Kenseth’s snookering.

“I can’t tell you how bad I want to win a race early for these guys (his new team at Stewart-Haas Racing),” Harvick said. “What a great way to start Speedweeks. We’ve had two solid races and just have to keep doing what we’re doing.”

If Kahne would have had maybe another half-lap, he might have been able to overtake both Harvick and Kenseth.

“We drove back up through the middle there and drove to the front,” Kahne said. “Matt (Kenseth) did a good job of being able to hold us off … but it was fun. We had a good time.”

Marcos Ambrose finished fourth, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Sixth through 10th were Wise, Aric Almirola, AJ Allmendinger, David Gilliland and Ryan Newman.

Austin Dillon started on the pole Thursday by virtue of winning the top spot during Sunday’s front row qualifying. But perhaps wanting to leave something in reserve for the Great American Race, Dillon finished 19th.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment was Kyle Busch, who finished 21st, the last driver on the lead lap.

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Reaction to INDYCAR/NBC Sports Group announcement: Mario Andretti, Roger Penske, Bobby Rahal and social media

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Like countless others on the East Coast, Mario Andretti was fighting through a snowstorm Wednesday morning.

But emotionally and personally, it was a very bright and sunny day for the legendary Indy car driver.

In an exclusive interview with, Andretti spoke in glowing terms about this morning’s announcement of a multi-year media rights partnership between INDYCAR and NBC Sports Group beginning next year.

“I think this is awesome,” Andretti said. “It’s music to my ears and all of us. NBC has been very familiar with IndyCar racing, so they’re a great partner. I’m elated that it’s all nailed down, secured and I’m looking forward to the future.

“It’s also great for the young lads in Indy Lights coming on, and it’s great for all the sponsors to have that kind of exposure. It’s a good day for INDYCAR today.”

Andretti lauded the fact that all elements of INDYCAR coverage – TV, digital and streaming – will now be under one corporate roof, so to speak.

“Personally, I think it’s huge,” Andretti said. “Everybody is going to be very familiar with everything, the storylines are going to flow perfectly from event to event. There’s nothing like continuity.

“It’s okay sometimes if you have two networks, but to me, the best possible solution is this. That’s why I think this is really a great day for INDYCAR racing to have NBC involved and the continuity is huge for us.”

MORE: NBC Sports Group, INDYCAR partner on new TV and digital rights agreement starting in 2019

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Several other high-profile individuals within the IndyCar community also gave their take on Wednesday’s announcement, including statements from team owners Roger Penske and Bobby Rahal.

Roger Penske: “As an industry, we are very fortunate to have the NBC Sports Group grow their presence and coverage of INDYCAR racing and really invest in the future of the sport. We believe there is a great deal of positive momentum in the Verizon IndyCar Series right now, from the development of the new race car, to the very talented group of young drivers and new teams coming into the sport this season.

“With the announcement of the enhanced broadcast partnership with NBC, it certainly adds to the excitement for the future. We know that the ways our fans are watching races and viewing INDYCAR content is rapidly changing, so staying ahead of the curve and the developing technology with our partners is important to the growth of our sport. We look forward to working with the NBC team to continue to build INDYCAR and take the sport in new directions.

“We also need to thank ABC and ESPN for all their terrific coverage over the years. The ABC network helped bring some of the most memorable moments in racing to life – including many of our team’s Indianapolis 500 victories – and we appreciate all of their hard work and passion for INDYCAR racing.”

Bobby Rahal: “It’s great news. I think the fact that the IndyCar Series will be under one roof, so to speak, network-wise can do nothing but great things for our sport. To increase to having eight races on network TV is also great news of course.

“The quality of the NBC broadcasts have gotten better and better over the last several years. They do a great job of providing interesting and entertaining content for the viewers and I think that will only continue to grow with the relationship going forward. That type of storytelling is also what helps bring new fans to the sport.”



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