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Daytona 500: Kurt Busch wins; Logano finishes 6th


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The Latest on the Daytona 500 (all times local):

6:25 p.m.

Kurt Busch has won the Daytona 500, surviving a crash-filled season opener to win the race for the first time in 16 tries.

Busch passed Kyle Larson final lap before cruising to the victory. Larson ran out gas shortly after passing Chase Elliott, who also came up short on fuel.

Busch led only one lap — the only one that mattered. He won in the No. 41 Ford that was partly sponsored by Monster Energy, the new title sponsor for NASCAR.

Busch prevailed in a race that saw many of NASCAR biggest stars knocked out in crashes. Seven-time and defensive Cup series champion Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Danica Patrick, Jamie McMurray and Brad Keselowski were among those eliminated long before the checkered flag flew.

Middletown’s Joey Logano, the 2015 champion, started from the 8th row today but he had trouble early on.

A loose wheel issue meant an unscheduled pit stop for Logano just 14 laps into the race, but it was early enough to give him plenty of time to rally back to finish in sixth.

Another Connecticut guy is Corey Lajoie, he found trouble early too as he flew through pit road and found himself making friends with the wall. Lajoie, the son of two time NASCAR Xfinity series champion randy Lajoie, was making his first Daytona 500 start.

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5:20 p.m.

NASCAR’s biggest stars continue to crash out of the Daytona 500.

Seven-time and defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson wrecked, and at least 16 other cars suffered some sort of damage. Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Danica Patrick and Clint Bowyer were involved, ending their race.

SHR drivers Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick were involved in the melee but stayed on the track.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth are among the favorites knocked out earlier in the race.

The race returned to green, and there was yet another wreck that collected Roush Fenway Racing drivers Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and former Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne.

—Dan Gelston

5:05 p.m.

Kevin Harvick has won the second stage of the Daytona 500, earning key points under NASCAR’s revamped race format.

Harvick earned one playoff point and 10 driver points for leading the race through the first 120 laps.

The stages in NASCAR’s biggest race are scheduled to end on laps 60, 120 and 200. Kyle Busch won the first stage but triggered a multi-car wreck and was knocked out of the race in the second.

The top 10 drivers at the end of Stage 1 and Stage 2 will be awarded points on a 10-through-1 scale. The third portion of the race will be for the overall victory, and although traditional point scoring will be applied for that stage, the win will be worth 40 points.

Joey Logano was second through the second stage, followed by Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski and Danica Patrick. Harvick, Busch and Patrick are all driving Fords for the first time for Stewart-Haas Racing.

— Dan Gelston

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4:55 p.m.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is out of the Daytona 500 in his first Cup race since July.

Earnhardt was caught up in multi-car accident triggered by Kyle Busch. Busch spun to start the accident, and collected not only his Toyota teammates, but Earnhardt as well.

The 42-year-old Earnhardt, a two-time Daytona 500 champion, brought the No. 88 Chevrolet to the garage. Under new rules, cars that go to the garage aren’t allowed to return to race.

“I had a good car, boy. Sorry about that,” Earnhardt said over the radio.

“Nothing you could do,” crew chief Greg Ives said.

The race was stopped for 17 minutes because of the debris from the wreck that also knocked out Matt Kenseth and Erik Jones. Earnhardt’s Hendrick Motorsports crew tried to repair the damage, but the 88 was unsalvageable.

Earnhardt made his comeback during Speedweeks after missing the second half of last season.

4:20 p.m.

Kyle Busch spun to start a multi-car accident that collected not only his Toyota teammates, but fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr., as well.

Busch may have had a tire problem that triggered his spin. He turned directly in the path of Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth, but Erik Jones, a de facto Gibbs driver at Furniture Row Racing.

“Fantastic. Right rear went down entering Turn 3,” Busch said as he headed to the garage.

Earnhardt went to pit road, where he had just five minutes to repair the damage to his car or risk being parked for the remainder of the race.

“Man, tore up three JGR cars and Junior as well,” Busch said. “Goodyear tires just aren’t any good at holding air.”

Busch had won the first stage of the race.

— Jenna Fryer

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4:11 p.m.

Fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. is leading at the halfway mark of the Daytona 500.

NASCAR‘s most popular driver crossed the finish line first on Lap 100, just ahead of Elliott Sadler and seven-time and defending NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

Earnhardt is trying to make a triumphant return from his fifth documented concussion, the latest costing him half of last season.

All 40 cars remain in the 500-mile race, although only 33 remain on the lead lap.

— Mark Long

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3:30 p.m.

Kyle Busch won the first stage of the Daytona 500, the first one completed under NASCAR’s revamped race format.

Busch earned one playoff point and 10 driver points for leading the race through the first 60 laps.

The stages in NASCAR’s biggest race are scheduled to end on laps 60, 120 and 200.

The top 10 drivers at the end of Stage 1 and Stage 2 will be awarded points on a 10-through-1 scale. The third portion of the race will be for the overall victory, and although traditional point scoring will be applied for that stage, the win will be worth 40 points.

Kevin Harvick was second in the first stage, followed by Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

— Dan Gelston

3:15 p.m.

Hendrick Motorsports used teamwork to help Chase Elliott settle into the Daytona 500.

Elliott started on the pole but struggled to hold the lead during the first stage of the race. During a caution period, veteran Dale Earnhardt Jr. was asked by his crew if he could relay any advice to how Elliott was attacking the race.

Earnhardt said Elliott needed to understand when to side draft and when to jump into a gap to deliberately slow a line of traffic.

Earnhardt is a two-time Daytona 500 winner and started on the front row next to Elliott.

— Jenna Fryer

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3:05 p.m.

Corey LaJoie created the first caution of the Daytona 500.

LaJoie seemingly made a late call to try to get on pit road, locked up his brakes and then slid across the track and slammed into the outside wall. LaJoie’s No. 83 Toyota sustained damaged to its front-ride fender, but managed to stay in the race.

“What the hell was he doing?” fellow driver Clint Bowyer said over his radio. “Glad he went the other way.”

Former NASCAR champion Kurt Busch was penalized during the caution flag for speeding on pit road.

— Mark Long

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2:55 p.m.

Rookie Daniel Suarez made a rare mistake in his first Daytona 500.

Suarez was caught speeding on pit road as the Toyota drivers all made their first pit stops at the same time. The idea was to keep the Toyota drivers together, but the speeding penalty forced the rookie back to pit road.

The mistake cost Suarez a lap, and he was running last in the 40-car field.

Suarez is the only foreign-born, full-time driver in NASCAR’s Cup Series. The Mexican won the Xfinity Series championship last year and got an unexpected promotion to NASCAR’s top level when Carl Edwards decided not to return to Joe Gibbs Racing.

Suarez is a rookie in the Daytona 500, which is the longest race of his career.

— Jenna Fryer

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2:40 p.m.

The 59th running of the Daytona 500 is underway, with pole-sitter Chase Elliott leading the 40-car field to the green flag waved by Pro Football Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson.

Elliott started on the pole for the second consecutive year, with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. also on the front row. Earnhardt is trying to make a triumphant return from his fifth documented concussion, the latest costing him half of last season.

Two-time race winner Michael Waltrip is making his final NASCAR start. Four drivers — rookies Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones as well as Corey LaJoie and D.J. Kennington — are making their first start in “The Great American Race.”

Denny Hamlin is the defending Daytona 500 winner, and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates are among others to watch. So are Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, who three of four restrictor-plate races last season.

Three drivers dropped to the back of the field because of engine changes: seven-time and defending NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, Paul Menard and Ryan Blaney.

— Mark Long

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1: 15 p.m.

The Gronk Spike has touched down at Daytona.

Rob Gronkowski, known as much for his off-field frivolity as his on-field talent for the New England Patriots, was the star of the show before the Daytona 500.

He had Monster Energy drinks and Monster girls all around him, a winning party combo for Gronk.

“I’m a fan of both of ’em,” Gronkowski said. “I make the girls make my own drink so I get the benefit of both.”

Gronkowski mingled with drivers in the garage, though he skipped riding the Monster Energy motorcycle “Ball of Death” in the fan zone.

“I got my one boy, Bobby Goons. He does all the stunt double (work) for me I’m not allowed to do,” he said. “He rode a bull about a couple of weeks ago in New York.”

Gronkowski attended his first Daytona 500 as a guest of Monster Energy, the new title sponsor in NASCAR’s Cup series. Gronkowski has an endorsement deal with Monster and wore a black T-shirt sporting a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series logo.

Daytona seemed the perfect fit for Gronk.

“I’m just having a blast,” he said. “I never really got to tailgate. I never really got to run-around (on Sundays). It’s cool to run-around and meet people, enjoy the atmosphere, see what really goes down on this side of the stadium.”

Gronkowski received the loudest ovation among all actors, athletes and other dignitaries introduced at the pre-race drivers meeting. Gronkowski had back surgery in December and missed New England’s Super Bowl win over Atlanta.

“It’s definitely tough, I ain’t gonna lie,” Gronkowski said. “It makes me want to go harder. Makes me want to rehab, makes me want to get back out on the field and be out with the boys.”

— Dan Gelston

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12:10 p.m.

NASCAR chairman Brian France issued a stern warning to drivers about blocking during the pre-race meeting for the Daytona 500.

France rarely wades into competition issues, but used his time at the microphone to warn the field that NASCAR will not interject if a driver tries to block another and it goes wrong.

“Blocking is part of racing,” France told drivers. “It causes big crashes. When you block somebody, you better hope there is a good Samaritan behind you.”

In other words, NASCAR won’t penalize a driver who wrecks someone trying to block.

Blocking caused multiple accidents in the Truck Series and Xfinity Series season openers at Daytona earlier this week.

— Jenna Fryer

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11:50 a.m.

Daytona 500 crasher!

Owen Wilson might need more time to rehearse his lines as the race’s grand marshal. Wilson’s quip that he should have an easy time instructing drivers to start their engines for the Daytona 500 backfired when he messed up one of the key words.

“Well, yeah, um, it shouldn’t be too tricky. I think it’s, ‘Racers, start your engines?'” Wilson said.

Told it was, “drivers,” Wilson cracked, “Oh, see, I already made a mistake.”

Rule #76: No excuses. Give the command like a champion! Luckily for him, he gets a second take.

Wilson will voice Lightning McQueen in the upcoming movie “Cars 3.” Wilson said his former “Cars” co-star Paul Newman would have been the actor that would have been the best NASCAR driver. Newman, who died in 2008, was a passionate race fan, driver and team owner.

“I just saw a documentary on his racing and he seemed to have almost more of a passion for that than the stuff he was doing in the movies,” Wilson said.

Wilson received some Daytona tips from “Wedding Crashers” co-star Vince Vaughn, who served as grand marshal two years ago.

“His big tip was not to watch his YouTube clip of him doing it because why see perfection?” Wilson said.

With “Zoolander 2” out of the running for an Oscar, Wilson picked “La La Land” as the favorite to win some awards in tonight’s ceremony.

“That ‘La La Land’ I thought was pretty good,” he said. “I went in seeing that, I was like, ‘I don’t know how much I’ll like a musical.’ But I felt that one was good pretty. And then, umm, yeah.”

— Dan Gelston

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11:45 a.m.

A star-studded lineup of actors, musicians and celebrities is usually on hand for the Daytona 500. A handful of them have definitive roles for the season opener.

There are always more just taking in NASCAR biggest event.

The list this year includes actor Keanu Reeves, former NFL coach Rex Ryan, Hall of Fame outfielder Ken Griffey Jr., New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, New York Jets receiver Brandon Marshall, former Green Bay Packers general manager Ron Wolf, four-time IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti, comedian Larry The Cable Guy, home improvement celeb Ty Pennington and celebrity chef Guy Fieri.

Others include major league catcher A.J. Pierzynski, Orlando Magic players Nikola Vucevic and Jeff Green, actor/singer Jamie Lynn Spears, comedian Nate Bargatze, comedian Bill Burr, UFC fighter Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, rapper Waka Flocka Flame, hip hop disc jockey DJ Whoo Kid and Olympic gold medalist Laurie Hernandez, a gymnast who is the most recent winner of “Dancing with the Stars.”

Actor Owen Wilson, the grand marshal for the race, drew the biggest crowds.

Even other celebrities took notice.

“What was it like having Owen Wilson up here?” said Dave Haywood, one-third of the trio Lady Antebellum. “I was kind of geeking out on that.”

— Mark Long

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11:20 a.m.

NFL Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson seems like the perfect person to wave the green flag to start the Daytona 500.

“Jimmie Johnson told me, ‘Just don’t drop it,'” Tomlinson said. “I wasn’t a guy that fumbled a lot, so I’m not worried about dropping it today.”

The flag should be in sure hands: Tomlinson fumbled just 30 times in nearly 4,000 touches over his 11-year NFL career.

Tomlinson is the honorary starter, and former “American Idol” contestant Jordin Sparks will sing the national anthem.

Sparks and Tomlinson, who star in the film “God Bless The Broken Road,” both called attending the race a bucket list item.

Sparks says she plans to shave almost 20 seconds of her anthem performance in the 2008 Super Bowl. She earned rave reviews for her rendition.

“Usually in a football stadium or a different stadium, half the crowd is behind me,” she said. “Now, I can see as far as my eye can see. Just a little more pressure.”

Her performance will be followed by a flyover from the famed U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.

—Dan Gelston

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10:45 a.m.

Mario Andretti is at Daytona as an honorary race official, 50 years after his victory in “The Great American Race.”

Andretti won the 1967 Daytona 500 and is one of only four drivers to win both the 500 and the prestigious Rolex 24 sports car race. He joins AJ Foyt, Jamie McMurray and Jeff Gordon in that club.

Andretti is a fixture in IndyCar, and his visits to NASCAR are rare. But he understands this race is the equivalent of the Indianapolis 500 and a Daytona 500 victory carries the same weight on a drivers’ resume.

“There are many drivers who are deserving to win, and never win the big ones,” Andretti said. “I guarantee during the driver meeting, there is more tension than any other race. This is the crown jewel of NASCAR. The winner of today’s race will have a big, big feather on his or her hat.”

Daytona International Speedway officials presented Andretti with a painting of his two winning cars at Daytona.

— Jenna Fryer

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10:20 a.m.

Denny Hamlin is trying to join an exclusive club of repeat Daytona 500 champions.

Hamlin would become only the fourth driver to win consecutive Daytona 500s, and the first in 22 years. Richard Petty, a seven-time Daytona 500 champ, went back-to-back in 1973 and 1974. Cale Yarborough did the same in 1983 and 1984. Sterling Marlin was the last driver — in 1994 and 1995 — to have his name etched on the Harley J. Earl Trophy two straight years.

Hamlin defeated Martin Truex Jr. by 0.010 seconds last year, the closest finish in race history.

Hamlin is in solid shape in the No. 11 Toyota to be a contender to repeat. He won a 150-mile qualifying race last week and starts fourth.

— Dan Gelston

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10:15 a.m.

The Daytona 500 will have perfect weather.

The high is expected to be 67 degrees in Daytona Beach, with clear skies, plenty of sunshine and zero chance of rain.

NASCAR’s season opener was delayed by rain twice in the last five years, getting pushed into prime time in 2014 and postponed to Monday in 2012.

The exhibition Clash at Daytona last week was postponed a day because of heavy rain.

— Mark Long

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10 a.m.

It’s Daytona Day!

The 59th running of the Daytona 500 begins Sunday afternoon, with Chase Elliott on the pole for the second consecutive year. Although Elliott had the fastest car in qualifying, Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. is getting most of the attention. Earnhardt is returning from his fifth documented concussion, the latest costing him half of last season.

Earnhardt will start alongside Elliott on the front row of “The Great American Race.”

Elliott won one of two qualifying races Thursday. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin, the defending Daytona 500 winner, won the other.

Others to watch in the season opener — NASCAR’s most prestigious race — include Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. The Team Penske teammates won three of four restrictor-plate races last season.

— Mark Long

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