BUSCH Orbitz 300

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Harvick wins NASCAR Busch season opener at Daytona

Feb 17, 2007 - 11:45 PM By Jim Ralabate PA SportsTicker Auto Racing Editor

DAYTONA BEACH, Florida (Ticker) -- Apparently a three-month layoff did not slow down Kevin Harvick.

The reigning NASCAR Busch Series champion, Harvick opened his 2007 season in grand fashion, winning Saturday's Orbitz 300 at Daytona International Speedway.

Harvick dominated this series last season, capturing nine checkered flags while registering a record 32 top-10 finishes en route to his second series title.

The 31-year-old Harvick picked up right where he left off Saturday, taking the lead for good with 40 laps remaining to win at Daytona for the first time in his career.

"What drives me is driving the car," said Harvick, who won $116,200. "To drive into Victory Lane is what it's all about."

Harvick has been a frequent visitor to Victory Lane since the beginning of the 2005 season, capturing 14 checkered flags in just 57 races. Despite starting 31st on Saturday, he was confident he would finally end his drought here at the 2 1/2-mile superspeedway.

"We started last here in July and wound up second," said Harvick, who led 42 of the race's 120 laps. "We've always run really well on these superspeedways. We just haven't been able to win a race until now."

Harvick's performance certainly impressed team owner Richard Childress, who hopes his star driver carries momentum into Sunday's Daytona 500.

"I'm really excited about tomorrow," Childress said. "I've got a great feeling about it. I think we stand a great chance of winning tomorrow."

It was the 27th career victory for Harvick, who averaged 156.239 miles per hour in a Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Despite his overwhelming success, Harvick still does not plan to run the full series schedule this season.

"We're going to run 26 races, I think," he said.

Toyota got off to an outstanding start in its inaugural Busch campaign thanks to Dave Blaney, who finished second in a Toyota Camry.

"It's big. The cars are really good," Blaney said. "The bodies are good, the engines are excellent. I expect a lot from this team this year."

Carl Edwards ran third in a Ford Fusion, followed by the Chevrolet of Clint Bowyer. Veteran Mark Martin rounded out the top five in a Ford.

Rookies Juan Pablo Montoya and Sam Hornish Jr. both struggled through disappointing season debuts.

Montoya, the former Formula One star who has garnered fanfare and media attention all week, withdrew after 24 laps due to engine trouble.

Hornish, the reigning Indianapolis 500 winner and IRL champion, ran six laps off the pace and finished 31st in a Dodge Charger.

"It was another learning experience knowing what the car needs to be like," he said. "We keep treating these as learning experiences."

Three-time race champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished seventh in a Chevrolet, one spot ahead of the Chevy of defending two-time winner Tony Stewart.

Earnhardt owned the lead for eight laps and was in front on lap 80 when Harvick passed him for good.

The 300-mile event featured 16 lead changes among 10 drivers, including Kyle Busch, who led four times for 46 laps before withdrawing with a falty fuel pump in lap 83.

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