Beyond Golf — 22 February 2013 by Kirby Arnold
Danica’s fast; not enough to beat Harvick

Let’s get this out of the way right now. I’m not a big Danica Patrick fan, but I’m far from a Danica hater.

She’s a talented race driver who someday will win a NASCAR race.

The Daytona 500 on Sunday? It’s possible, but a lot of things must fall in her favor, the biggest perhaps being good old-fashioned racing luck.

Danica stirred the racing world last week when she drove to the fastest qualifying speed for Sunday’s race, becoming the first woman to win the pole position at this level of stock car racing. It was a historic achievement that drew a legitimate amount of attention.

But driving a pole-winning lap at Daytona – a 2½-mile speedway where handling, aerodynamics and pack racing rule the race – is perhaps the least important part of the track time there. Qualifying is a one-car-at-a-time endeavor, while the race will be a three-hour bumper-to-bumper, door-to-door journey at nearly 200 mph.

The driver with the biggest set of, uh, nerves, will win.

Because most of the 43 cars will run in a tight pack, one slight misjudgment often creates a multi-car crash.  To a great degree, luck will determine who gets swallowed up in a crash like that and who doesn’t.

The goal is to avoid trouble, stay toward the front of the pack and race for the victory in a no-holds-barred manner the last 20 laps.  Despite the headlines Danica created when she set the fastest qualifying time, Kevin Harvick has been the dominant driver the past week, winning the Sprint Unlimited exhibition race last Saturday and one of the two 150-mile qualifying races on Thursday.

Harvick goes into the 500 as the obvious favorite.

Strange things tend to happen at Daytona, though. Otherwise, the late great Dale Earnhardt would have won six or seven 500s (he won it just once). Unknown drivers like Pete Hamilton and Derrike Cope have pulled off shocking victories in the 500, and young Trevor Bayne won it two years ago and has struggled to achieve even a modest amount of success since.

Danica Patrick certainly has a chance.

If her car, part of the powerful Stewart-Haas Racing stable with Tony Stewart as her teammate, runs strong and avoids the bad luck that fells favorites at Daytona, she can race at the front of the pack.

And, if she’s near the front those last 20 laps, anything can happen and Danica just may shake the racing world.

I’m picking Harvick, though.

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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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