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Daytona 500: Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth win qualifying races

The Daytona 500 is underway and defending NASCAR champion Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth won the first two races to be lined up together at the Daytona International Speedway.

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The first race on Thursday had one early five-car accident that began when McDowell ran into David Gilliland, who shot directly into Juan Pablo Montoya and Paul Menard.

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Menard then questioned the style of racing NASCAR has created.

"It's a mess out there," said Menard, who was also wrecked in the Shootout. "NASCAR is trying to dictate physics. Physics says two cars are going to push and they're trying to make rule changes to keep us from doing it, so it's kind of hybrid pack racing and tandem racing. It's causing a pretty unsafe situation."

On the last lap of the race, with Stewart trying to hold off Dale Earnhardt Jr. in a race to the checkered flag, Danica Patrick's car was hit as the pack raced down the back straight.

Patrick was hit by Aric Almirola, sending her car sliding across the track and into an inside retaining wall. Her Chevrolet lifted off its wheels as it hit the SAFER barrier, which noticeably softened the blow.

She was not injured and will make her Daytona 500 debut on Sunday.

"It happened really quick," she said. "We were just looking to finish, to be honest, and unfortunately that wasn't the case. It felt pretty big. I don't know what it looked like."

Stewart, who owns Patrick's car, said he tried to watch her race from his rearview mirror.

"I got to see a replay of it, but I didn't see how it started," he said. "The little bit I could see, I thought she did a good job. There wasn't any doubt in my mind she would do that. It's hard for her now because she's trying to gain the confidence of the guys around her that she's solid and is going to make good decisions.

"She's trying to gain the other drivers' confidence."

The second race was caution-free and had very little action until the end, when Kenseth passed Biffle for the win. It made it unclear what the Daytona 500 will look like, but Stewart, who is 0 for 13 in this race, said he's not been holding back during SpeedWeeks and will race hard on Sunday.

"We showed the rest of the field that we have a car that has good speed," he said. "I want those guys to see that we've got strength. It's an advantage to do that at this point of the game, showing that guys around you are going to hopefully want to be around you, and know that you've got a car that can stay up there, so they want to stay with you."

Stewart, who hasn't missed a beat since closing out last season's title run, picked up his first victory with new crew chief Steve Addington, who was hired to replace Darian Grubb after Stewart's championship run.

"We took care of business today," Stewart said.

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