Beyond Golf — 28 February 2012 by Kirby Arnold
500: Kenseth cruises; Danica crashes

Things I learned Monday night from the Daytona 500:

— Danica Patrick proved nothing to me, through no fault of her own. Taken out in a Lap 2 crash that she (and many others) couldn’t avoid, Patrick spent a half-hour in the garage as her car was repaired, then drove in the back of the pack as she gained much-needed seasoning in her first Sprint Cup race.

— Rousch Racing was strong all month at Daytona, and Matt Kenseth was unbeatable in the final laps. Kenseth dominated the final two restarts and, with teammate Greg Biffle as his wingman to hold back Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the last lap, cruised to victory.  Earnhardt did nose past Biffle to finish second, but he had no chance of catching Kenseth.

— NASCAR racers really shouldn’t Tweet and drive, but Brad Keselowski used a two-hour stoppage in the race to provide some interesting use of social media via Twitter.

— Next time I need to clean up a jet fuel fire, I’m going to the grocery store and getting a bunch of Tide laundry soap.

Aside from the crash that took out Danica, the jet fuel fire was the most bizarre incident of a strange race that didn’t begin until nearly 30 hours past its scheduled starting time because of rain in Daytona.

During a caution flag period with 40 laps remaining in the race, NASCAR sent its jet dryers onto the track to blow bits of rubber off the track in order to provide a clean surface. It’s standard procedure to have equipment on the track at such a time because the pace car is leading the cars around at 55mph.

However, Juan Pablo Montoya was speeding down the back straight in order to catch up with the slow-moving pack when something broke on his car.  It spun directly into one of two jet dryers in Turn 3, and the collision split the dryer’s fuel tank and created a huge fireball.

Montoya and the dryer driver exited their damaged vehicles stunned but OK, but the raging fire took several minutes to extinguish in one of the most surreal scenes in racing history. The track surface was a scorched mess, but otherwise unharmed. It needed some serious cleaning, though, because it was wet and slippery from all the chemicals used to snuff out the fire.

The NASCAR folks are experts at cleaning oil, rubber and car parts off a race track, but watered-down jet fuel?  How do you scrub a track clean of that?

Tide. That’s how.

As if they Googled, “how to clean up jet fuel from asphalt,” track officials unloaded several Costco-sized boxes of Tide laundry soap (unsure if it included bleach) and spread it over the huge span of scorched asphalt. Then they hosed it down (also unsure if anyone shouted, “Anybody got extra underwear to wash? We’re doing whites!”).

The Tide trick actually worked, although I haven’t heard if it smelled morning fresh on those first laps after the restart.

Driver Brad Keselowski became an on-the-scene photo journalist during the red-flag period. Keselowski, who for some reason kept his phone in the pocket of his racing suit, actually Tweeted photos as his car sat idle on the back straight during the stoppage, and he gained 100,000 followers in a two-hour period. Somewhere, Terrell Owens had to be doing a slow burn.

For all the predictions of pack racing and three-wide racing and massive accidents for all 200 laps, Daytona essentially was a one-lane racetrack in the 500. Oh, there was two-wide racing all night and a few who even dared to make it three wide, and even some big wrecks.  But unless a driver was down on the inside lane, he wasn’t going to be beat.

That’s where Kenseth put himself after the last restarts, and he’s now a two-time Daytona 500 champion because of it.

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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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