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Expect mixed bag at Daytona 500

Defending Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart will try to chase down an elusive victory at the Daytona 500. (Associated Press)
Defending Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart will try to chase down an elusive victory at the Daytona 500. (Associated Press)

To paraphrase the famous philosopher Forrest Gump, the Daytona 500 is like a box of chocolates.

You never know what you are going to get when you put 43 souped-up stock cars on a superspeedway track. There is always a random crash-and-bang madness to Daytona, and today’s 54th running of the Great American Race will be no different.

Good luck handicapping the thing. Defending champion Trevor Bayne will try to become the first driver since Sterling Marlin (1994-95) to win back-to-back titles.

The dynamics are as quirky as ever, given that NASCAR listened to the moans and groans of fans and drivers and made modifications trying to eliminate the tandem-racing (think lovebugs) style that brought a monotonous drone to Daytona and Talladega.

There should be nothing monotonous about today’s race.

Defending Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart will try to chase down an elusive victory at the 500. Kyle Busch will try to use his crazy-mad driving skills to win here again for the second time in eight days.

And of course, we would be remiss if we failed to mention that a certain Ms. Patrick will be among the participants.

Danica Patrick has put the GoDaddy in NASCAR this week, slamming into infield walls, snagging the pole for the Nationwide race, getting slammed again – this time by teammate Cole Whitt – during Saturday’s race.

She will dust off the disappointment, get some relief from her husband, who is a physical therapist, and roll back out to the track again.

Patrick’s polarizing presence is good for business. Heck, if her marriage were to break up and she married Tim Tebow, I suspect the Internet would explode.

Right now, she’s making things go kaboom in NASCAR.

“We look for these kind of moments,” Bayne said after Patrick won the pole for Nationwide race. “NASCAR keeps talking about star power, and these are the kinds of moments that are going to help our whole sport. Not just Danica or our team, but our whole sport. The more eyeballs watching, it’s all better for us. … We want that diversity. They’ve been saying our fan base is aging, and they’re looking for that new thing. This is it.”

The new-old thing for today is a return of the pack. It will most definitely lead to a bunch of cars going crunch today, just as they did during last week’s Budweiser Shootout and in Saturday’s Nationwide race.

The unanswerable question for the drivers is when and where. Avoid any of the big ones, and you have a shot. Get caught up in the big crunch, and your day is over, and it’s on to Phoenix for the next ride.

It’s a long day, too – 500 miles, 200 laps – along the 2.5-mile high-banked oval. Rain could be a factor, with a 50 percent chance of showers. The track has lights, so we could see a nighttime finish if Mother Nature wants to intervene.

A bunch of money is on the line: Daytona’s $19,142,601 purse is the richest of the season.

Nationwide Series

Only six of 43 cars made it unscathed to the finish line of the Nationwide Series opener at Daytona International Speedway.

James Buescher was not driving one of those clean cars.

Still, he managed to dodge and weave his way through an 11-car accident on the last lap of Saturday’s race, stealing the victory and setting the stage for what’s expected to be a wild Daytona 500.

Buescher joined unknown John King, winner of Friday night’s Truck Series opener, as surprise winners this weekend at Daytona. Both came from nowhere to win crash-marred races.

Buescher was in 11th place as he rounded the final turn and made his way through a massive pack of spinning race cars.

Danica Patrick started from the pole but was wrecked 49 laps into the race when JR Motorsports teammate Cole Whitt ran into the back of her while bump-drafting. Her car spun into the wall and back down the track. Although she returned the damaged Chevrolet to the track late, she finished 38th in the first race of what will be her first full season in the Nationwide Series.

Toyota unveils prototype

About an hour before the final practice for the Daytona 500, there was one car circling the track.

It was camouflaged with a zebra-striped paint scheme, but there were plenty of people who knew exactly what it was doing out there.

Toyota secretly unveiled its 2013 Camry at Daytona Speedway on Saturday, showing off a two-seat prototype for company president Akio Toyoda.

Toyoda and NASCAR driver Kyle Busch each turned 10 laps on the high-banked speedway in the new car.

Two top 200 mph

Amid cooler temperatures, David Gilliland and Trevor Bayne topped 200 mph in the final practice session.

Gilliland reached 200.138 mph during his fast lap Saturday, which was more than 20 degrees cooler than the past few days.

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