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Randomness defines Daytona; Great American Race always has surprises

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- 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 the 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 (noon, Ch. 29, 550 AM).

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 Saturday, 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."

The new-old thing for today is a return of the pack. It will most definitely lead to a bunch of cars going crunch, 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've got 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.

Fast men (and one woman) in fast cars chasing lots of money in unpredictable packs.

The random madness of Daytona.

"You see a lot of strange things happen, and the race is much like the week," Kevin Harvick said. "You can get excited. You can get caught up in somebody else's mess. You can cause a mess. Those high emotions tend to make things happen. I think being here for a while, you have to learn to keep those emotions as low as possible until the end, so you can keep yourself around and be there when it counts.

"It seems like when they drop the green flag, we all think it counts right off the bat, and it just causes some crazy situations."

Let the madness begin. Embrace it. Resistance is futile.