Danica Patrick keeps making history.
The first woman to start from the pole at the Daytona 500 has become the first female to lead a lap in a NASCAR Cup race.
Patrick sent the huge crowd into a frenzy when she snatched the lead from Michael Waltrip on lap 90 after a series of pit stops under yellow. She led two laps before Denny Hamlin surged to the front.
But Patrick has shown her qualifying run was no fluke. She’s got a strong car and has been in the top 10 all day as the 200-lap race approaches the midway point.
Patrick switched to NASCAR last year after becoming the first woman to lead laps at the Indianapolis 500, as well as being the first to win an IndyCar race.
Now, she’s looking for a win in NASCAR’s biggest event.
— Paul Newberry — http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963
AWKWARD: Rapper 50 Cent wasn’t content just chatting up Erin Andrews.
He went in for a kiss.
In the strangest part of the buildup to the Daytona 500, Mr. Cent brought back memories of Joe Namath’s awkward attempt to plant one on Suzy Kolber when he tried the same move with Andrews on pit road.
She turned her head one way, then the other, only allowing the “Candy Shop” rapper to get a peck on the cheek.
— Paul Newberry —
BIG CRASH: We’ve had the first big wreck of the Daytona 500.
And a bunch of top contenders have seen their chances go up in smoke.
Former 500 winners Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart and Jamie McMurray were caught up in the crash on lap 33. So was defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski.
The melee began coming through the tri-oval when Kasey Kahne’s car began to slide across the track after appearing to get bumped from behind by Kyle Busch.
At least two other drivers also got caught up in the mess: Juan Pablo Montoya and Casey Mears. Joey Logano made a great move to dodge the spinning cars.
Pole sitter Danica Patrick made it through unscathed and remains near the front of the pack.
— Paul Newberry —
HANG ON TIGHT: From one defending champion to another, Brad Keselowski had a piece of advice for Daytona 500 starter Ray Lewis:
Don’t drop the flag.
The retired Baltimore Ravens star served as honorary starter for the Daytona 500. Lewis waved the green flag without incident Sunday to start the “Great American Race.”
Lewis, who said he was nervous, got a quick tip from Keselowski.
“Brad texted me on the way in, the one rule is, don’t drop the flag,” Lewis said before the race. “I’m going to squeeze the flag very hard. I want to watch this and be a part of it. To be here is an awesome experience.”
Lewis was one of several stars at Daytona International Speedway. Rappers T.I. and 50 Cent attended NASCAR’s season opener, which has Danica Patrick starting on the pole.
Oscar-nominated actor James Franco was the grand marshall and said, “Drivers and Danica, start your engines!” The Zac Brown Band played a pre-race concert in the Daytona International Speedway infield. Band member Clay Cook performed the national anthem.
Retired baseball pitcher Tom Gordon, comedian Drew Carey, and Wes Welker and Steve Spurrier also were in attendance.
Lewis called Keselowski on the eve of the 2012 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway and left him an inspirational voice message. Keselowski also often listens to Lewis’ motivational speeches before races.
“I caught a glimpse of how he always watched my videos and it really inspired him,” Lewis said. “That’s when me and him really started having conversations with each other, and from there it just turned into a friendship. I send him motivational things, and heads-up on what I am doing, that’s where the relationship has gone.”
— Dan Gelston — http://twitter.com/APgelston
DANICA DROPS BACK: Danica Patrick made history by becoming the first woman to start from the pole in a NASCAR Cup race.
But in the beginning of the Daytona 500, she failed to pull off another landmark.
Choosing the outside spot on the front row, Patrick gave up the lead to Jeff Gordon on the very first lap, missing out on an early chance to become the first female to lead a Cup lap.
Over the first 10 laps, she settled in behind Gordon and held on to the second spot in the 43-car field.
Patrick went on the radio before the race to thank her crew for giving her such a strong car. “I’ll do the best job I can to do my end of the deal today,” she said. “All in all, thank you for everything. You guys are awesome.”
Later, Patrick sent the huge crowd into a frenzy when she snatched the lead from Michael Waltrip on lap 90 after a series of pit stops under yellow. She led two laps before Denny Hamlin surged to the front.
— Paul Newberry —
FRANCO’S AUDIBLE: “Drivers … and Danica!!! … start your engines.”
With that unique command, actor James Franco has ordered the 43 cars to fire up for the Daytona 500.
The duty is normally carried out with the most famous words in racing: “Gentlemen, start your engines.”
Of course, this year is different. Danica Patrick is the first woman to start from the pole in a Cup race, and Franco hinted beforehand that he was planning an audible. As unpredictable as ever, he passed on a chance to copy the command that was used when Patrick raced in the Indianapolis 500, “Lady and gentlemen, start your engines.”
Now, it’s time to go racing at Daytona.
— Paul Newberry —
A HEARTY BUNCH: NASCAR FANS RETURN TO DANGER ZONE: Say this about NASCAR fans: They don’t frighten easily.
One day after a harrowing crash injured dozens of fans in the stands, those same seats are filling up for the Daytona 500.
No one seems too concerned.
“These should be good seats,” said Rick Barasso, as he settled into a spot that was right in the danger zone when Kyle Larson’s car slammed into the catch fencing on the final lap of a Nationwide Series race Saturday. “I mean, what are the chances of it happening again?”
That seems to be the attitude of the fans heading into the Daytona 500, the season-opening Cup race and biggest event on the NASCAR schedule. Most people say it’s worth the risk to sit next to the ear-rattling action — no more than 20 feet away for those in the first row. They love to hear the engines, smell the exhaust, and feel the wind whipping in their face as 43 cars go by at nearly 200 mph.
Still, there are a few fans fretting about the location of their seats.
Raymond Gober returned to the same location where he was nearly struck by a bolt from Larson’s car. He scooped up the debris as a souvenir, though he acknowledged being a little nervous about his seat on the back row of the lower level. He even considered wearing his motorcycle helmet to the 500, but figured “everybody would start laughing at me.” Next year, he plans to buy an upper-level seat in the main grandstand.
“My dad called and said, ‘You’re sitting in the same seats? “‘ Gober said. “He couldn’t believe it.”
There are grim reminders of what happened Saturday: a bloody spot that had been washed down (not entirely, though), a tire mark on a seat, another seat that was partially bent from getting struck by that same tire.
— Paul Newberry —
EDITOR’S NOTE — “Daytona 500 Watch” shows you the Daytona 500 and events surrounding the race through the eyes of Associated Press journalists. Follow them on Twitter.
Official Wire and AP