Sunday, February 22, 2015

A few thoughts on That Race

It's still white-on-white outside, winter in full snow-muffled regalia. But down in Daytona, Fla., this afternoon, summer's about to make a daring daylight raid.

The Daytona 500 breaks out this afternoon, and so wind 'em up, America, and tell Jack London's Frozen North Collection to kiss your heinie. Of course, given that it's Daytona, the only reliable prediction you can make is that you can't reliably predict anything -- except that at some point mayhem will ensue the way it always ensues when 43 loons start flat-footing it around 2.5 miles of banked asphalt.

So, no calls here on your winner. Only a few other calls.

1. At some point, mayhem will ensue.

Daytona being Daytona, there will be at least one big wreck early and three late. The three late crashes will all happen in the last 15 laps. Danica Patrick will be in the middle of one of them. So will the half-dozen or so others who tend to crash as much as Danica does, despite the prevailing opinion these days that only Danica crashes a lot.

2. If he's still around, someone will try to push Jeff Gordon to the front in the final laps.

One year at Daytona, back when he was still Wonderboy and winning every other race (or so it seemed), Gordon was heard to lament on his radio that "we've got no friends out here."  That won't be the case today.

NASCAR being notoriously susceptible to sentiment, you can expect Gordon to have no shortage of drafting partners when the laps get skinny today. This is, after all, his last Daytona 500 as a full-time driver. So he'll get help. And if the Hendricks cars are as strong as they've been all week, it might be enough help to enable him to escape the usual cluster at the end of the race and take the checkers. Which of course wouldn't be the first time the script came out right in a NASCAR event.

3. If the script does come out right, expect the conspiracy theorists to suggest there actually is a script.

Because, you know, they're conspiracy theorists. It's what they do.

4. At least one person you never thought would be in the mix will be in the mix.

Because so much is subject to whim at Daytona, the usual suspects usually get their party crashed by Who's That. Remember when the otherwise obscure Trevor Bayne came out of nowhere to win one year? Remember when Ward Burton, who won just five Cup races in 13 seasons, somehow won Daytona one year?

And what about Martin Truex Jr.? Anyone remember him?

No reason you should. He had an awful year in 2014, finishing in the top five just once and leading a single lap all season. But he was strong last week in the Sprint Unlimited all-star race, and he was strong in his qualifying race this week, finishing fifth, and he goes off 10th today. Don't be surprised if he's up front somewhere late.

And last but not least ...

5. A Busch will not win this race.

That's because Kurt is suspended. And Kyle's out of it after an ugly tangle with a concrete inside wall which left him with a broken right leg and a broken left foot.

So there's one Daytona prediction sure to be right. If perhaps the only one.    

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