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.