NASCAR & Auto Racing

NASCAR’s Monster Energy Cup champion is … picked by a white-rumped vulture named Peanut

Peanut, the Indian white-rumped vulture poses next to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series trophy at Zoo Miami on Tues., Nov. 14, 2017. Peanut, the Indian white-rumped vulture picked #18 Kyle Busch to win the title on Sunday at the Homestead Miami Speedway.
Peanut, the Indian white-rumped vulture poses next to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series trophy at Zoo Miami on Tues., Nov. 14, 2017. Peanut, the Indian white-rumped vulture picked #18 Kyle Busch to win the title on Sunday at the Homestead Miami Speedway. rkoltun@miamiherald.com

Some things are almost sacredly traditional about the annual NASCAR season finale staged at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Some of those special sights and sounds:

▪ There are the whirrrring/vrrrooom ear-piercing noises that occur as race cars practice and prepare for the NASCAR event that is staged this Friday through Sunday with the crowning of its yearly champions.

▪ There are the pit crews practicing changing tires and filling a car with fuel in a matter of seconds.

▪ There are the drivers, in their racing outfits and helmets, testing their cars and talking to fans.

▪ There are cars doing wheelies with rubber burning and smoke coming off the tires after winning a race.

However, there is one less serious and more fun aspect to this weekend.

Every year, an animal from Zoo Miami — in a ceremony at the zoo — picks who will win NASCAR’s most prestigious title of the year, the NASCAR Cup Ford EcoBoost 400. That’s the crown jewel of racing and the starting flag for that event will come down at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

This year the animal picking the supposed winner was a vulture that is strangely named Peanut. For animal enthusiasts, as Zoo Miami director Ron Magill definitely is, this particular animal is technically an Indian white-rumped vulture.

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Peanut, the Indian white-rumped vulture picked #18 Kyle Busch to win the title on Sunday at the Homestead Miami Speedway at Zoo Miami on Tues., Nov. 14, 2017. Roberto Koltun rkoltun@miamiherald.com

Peanut, age 31, had the numbers of the four drivers left who could possibly win the title in front of him: No. 2 Brad Keselowski, No. 4 Kevin Harvick, No. 18 Kyle Busch and No. 78 Martin Truex Jr. Human selectors consider Harvick the likely winner, but animal-turned-prognosticator Peanut had a different idea.

He waddled over rather than flying and selected Kyle Busch as the winner while making some bird-like noises (no translation available).

There is no doubt Magill is one of NASCAR’s biggest fans.

“Ford Championship Weekend is the greatest sporting event in history,” Magill said. “It’s an incredible opportunity in which people from all over the world come to see this race. It’s something that you will never forget.”

One caution to reader: In the history of this animal-picks-race event there has not been an overwhelming amount of success. Even Magill sheepishly admits he has had to fire many of his prognosticating animals after they have failed to correctly select the winner.

Tickets for the 2017 Ford Championship Weekend can be purchased by calling 866-409-7223 or going to www.HomesteadMiamiSpeedway.com.

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