Beyond Golf — 22 February 2014 by Kirby Arnold
And the Daytona 500 winner is — Biffle

The only sure thing about the Daytona 500 is that they’ll race 500 miles on Sunday. If it doesn’t rain, which is no sure thing in Florida.

More than any other race in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup season, Daytona often is the wildest of the proverbial wild cards. It’s an unpredictable race that can finish with an unheralded driver in victory lane and leave heavy favorites wondering if it’s not meant for them to win NASCAR’s premier event.

Nobody expected Pete Hamilton in 1970, Derrike Cope in 1990 and Trevor Bayne in 2011 to win, but they did.  If there ever was a lock to win this race, then why did Dale Earnhardt Sr. win it only once (1998)?

With engines restricted on horsepower to keep the cars from literally taking flight if (or when, in most cases) they get out of shape on the 2½-mile speedway, the 500 essentially is this:

— Forty-three stock cars racing side-by-side, nose-to-tail at close to 200 mph, linked only by the air current that sucks those at the back of the pack toward the front.  That’s why Martin Truex said Thursday that “at this race it really doesn’t matter where you start.” Truex was second-fastest in qualifying last weekend but crashed in a preliminary race and must start at the back of the pack today in his backup car. No biggie, apparently.

— A matter of time before “The Big One” happens.  With cars running so close at such high speed, the smallest misstep can cause a crash that damages a dozen cars or more.  They crashed like that in practice, so you think the race will be tamer?  I don’t.

— Danica Patrick’s opportunity to make history.  Whether she’s racing with the leaders or at the back of the pack, Patrick gets a huge amount of attention, and that irritates some racing purists.  Richard Petty stirred that pot earlier this month after he was asked what chance Patrick had of winning. His answer: “If everybody else stayed home.”

Well get this, Richard.

Danica Patrick has a good chance of winning. She drives for the strong Stewart-Haas team and will be limited by only her own experience in the 500 (this is her second year) and luck.

Luck almost certainly will determine who wins.  A dozen or more drivers are capable of winning, and those who steer around the early mishaps and position themselves near the front in the final laps will have the best chance.

Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon, Jimmy Johnson, Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick should be on anyone’s favorite list.  Along with Danica Patrick.

Danica? Really? Yeah really, because anything can happen in this race.

That’s why I’m picking Biffle.

Why?  He grew up in Vancouver, Wash., and cut his racing teeth on Northwest short tracks, including Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Wash.  I covered motorsports for The Herald in Everett, Wash., and met Biffle in his early years.  I re-connected with him later in Phoenix when he was a star in NASCAR’s truck series, and he was the same down-home guy who cherished his Northwest roots.

Because of that, and the fact that my all-time favorite Mark Martin has retired, I’ll go with Biffle.

But I reserve the right to change my mind about a dozen times as the race unfolds.

 

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Kirby Arnold

Kirby was 10 years old when he played his first round of golf with his grandmother on the sand greens of the Versailles Country Club in Missouri, and his love of the game has never wavered. Only one thing stood between Kirby and a single-digit handicap: his job. Kirby worked 42 years as a sports writer and editor at newspapers in Missouri and Washington. He started while a high school sophomore at the Rolla Daily News in Missouri and covered a variety of events, including his own high school basketball games (he made sure his name was spelled right). He was a sports writer and editor for 10 years at the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader, covering Southwest Missouri State University football and basketball, Missouri University football and basketball, and numerous motorsports events including the Indianapolis 500 during the 1970s and 1980s. He moved to the Seattle area in 1984, becoming assistant sports editor at The Herald in Everett, Wa., then executive sports editor from 1987-1998, a time when The Herald's sports coverage was recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as being among the best in the nation for newspapers its size. Kirby returned to the press box in 1999, taking over The Herald's coverage of the Seattle Mariners. He covered the Mariners/baseball beat the next 13 seasons and in 2007 wrote his first book, Tales from the Seattle Mariners Dugout. While Kirby pursued a rewarding newspaper career, one of his lifelong goals remained unfulfilled: breaking 80 on a consistent basis. Kirby left The Herald at the end of 2011, moved to Phoenix and immediately began spending more time at the golf course. His only excuse now is a 12 on the stimpmeter.

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