DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Perfect so far at Speedweeks, Kevin Harvick has positioned himself as the favorite to win the Daytona 500.
It's the last label he wanted.
"We like to be the lame-duck underdog. That's what we're shooting for,'' Harvick said.
Harvick won the first Daytona 500 qualifying race on Thursday to make it 2 for 2 at Daytona International Speedway, where he also won an exhibition race last weekend. It positions Harvick, the 2007 Daytona 500 winner, as a top contender in Sunday's season-opening "Great American Race.''
It comes at a time when Harvick has found a balance in his life with the addition of son, Keelan, who was born last July, and as he heads into his final season with Richard Childress Racing. Harvick has already decided to move to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014.
"We've been fortunate to win the first two races of Speedweeks. We've just got to keep a level head on our shoulders, not get too high over what we've done, just do the same things that we've done,'' he said. "If it's meant to be, it's meant to be. I think we definitely have the car and team to be in contention to do that.''
Kyle Busch won the second duel to give Toyota its first victory of Speedweeks and snap Chevrolet's dominance. Harvick took the new Chevrolet SS to Victory Lane twice, and Danica Patrick put it on the Daytona 500 pole in time trials.
Busch held off Kasey Kahne, in a Chevrolet, and learned the driver out front is in the strongest position.
"It's hard to pass the leader,'' said Busch. "Stay out front. When you get out front, you can hold everyone off.''
Kahne, who settled for second, said timing will be critical.
"I don't think waiting 'til the last lap is the ticket anymore,'' Kahne said.
Although he's seen Harvick dominate for two races now, Kahne believes drivers are still figuring out NASCAR's new Gen-6 car, the right strategy for Sunday - and watching Harvick.
"I think Kevin looks really good. I always think Kevin is one of the guys to beat when we come to Daytona,'' Kahne said. "He's got this place figured out. I think he can be beat, yeah. There's a few of us in the second race who had really good cars, and I could move around really well, similar to what Harvick did in the first race.''
In the first race, Harvick held off Greg Biffle over a four-lap sprint to win his 150-mile duel, with the second race held later Thursday afternoon. Harvick and Biffle also went 1-2 in last Saturday night's exhibition race.
The starting field for the Daytona 500 is set by the results from the pair of 60-lap qualifiers, but Patrick held onto the pole by running a safe race in the first qualifier. The first woman to win a pole at NASCAR's top level, Patrick earned the top starting spot in time trials last weekend.
She started first in the first qualifier, raced a bit early, then faded back to run a conservative race and ensure she'll start first in the 500.
"I hate coming to the end like that and just lagging back,'' she said. "That's not fun. But it's also really ignorant to go drive up into the pack and be part of an accident for absolutely no reason. You're really not going to learn much there.''