The thousands of fans attended the
cheered the start of the Great American Race, but then hushed in time for the third lap.
They solemnly held up three fingers as the race cars completed the lap as a tribute to the memory of the
The cheering resumed as the lead cars started lap 4.
"Dale Earnhardt was to racing what
was to basketball, or what any superstar is to a sport," said Terry Munroe of Melbourne, who was wearing his No. 3 jersey.
Like many, he had his own memory of Earnhardt's death 10 years ago. Munroe took a photo as Earnhardt and Waltrip drove through Turn 1 before the fatal crash. "I didn't know he would be dead 30 seconds later."
For years, Sonny White claimed the same camping spot on the infield between Turns 3 and 4 at
. But the Tennessee man passed away late last year.
He had already paid for his spot, which has to be reserved months in advance.
In his place stands a cross-shaped memorial of yellow and white flowers, laid there by his friends and family.
Longtime friend Corky Corzine wrote his own tribute to White on a baseball cap, and laid it on the floral cross. "If you keep coming back every year, one year, someone doesn't come back," said Corzine, who has been attending since 1978.
He shied away from talking about his friend. "Sonny is still here and that's all I can say," he said.
Earnhardt and Gordon NASCAR coolers for sale at Daytona 500
The best way to keep those Pabst Blue Ribbon beers cold during a NASCAR race has to be the Cool Works Cup coolers.
On sale at the Daytona 500, the coolers, which are shaped like the hood of a race car, feature 36 of NASCAR's top racers including
. The coolers come in two sizes: the small ($46.95) holds 12 cans and the large ($159.95) holds 96.
The Daytona 500 is the first time the Atlanta-based company has offered its coolers at a race.
Austin Woods of Cool Works Cup said it's the "die-hard" race fans who buy the coolers.
"Usually the ones that get them are decked out in their favorite drivers," Woods said.
The most popular choice on Sunday, Woods said, was the
Check them out at
Sunday morning rock gospel refrains before the Daytona 500
Race fans at the Daytona International Speedway infield didn't have to miss Sunday morning church services.
A few dozen people started their morning with the gospel refrains during the service offered by Calvary Christian Church in Ormond Beach in the infield.
B.J. Wansley of Daytona Beach soaked in the sun and the rock music. "You feel such a presence of God here," she said.
The Mission of God Ministries, a group from Macon, Ga., has spent the last few days with the infield fans, reaching out to the fans. There was some resistance at first, said missions director Jessica Bailey.
"But once I let them know I wasn't trying to throw anything in their face that I'm just out here showing God's love to them, they were OK," said Jacob Fuchs of Atlanta.
First-time attendee "amazed" he could stand on hallowed Daytona track
Bryan Sumney, of Chesterton, Ind., wanted to just enjoy his first trip to Daytona International Speedway, and just sit on the one place he never thought he could: on the double yellow line of the track itself.
In the morning before the race, he joined the throngs roaming on the track.
"I can't believe that I could actually walk on the track," said Sumney. And the fan tradition of signing their names on the checkered start-finish line? "That was the very first thing I did," he said.
"It just blows me away how fan-friendly they are here, unlike the
, where they shift you around like cattle."
Two young NASCAR fans, BFFs but divided on driver loyalty
They might be the most determined little girls in the infield.
Ashlee Frick, 8, and Christina Richards, 7, from Palm Bay, parked their chairs on the edge of the traffic, watching every single car, especially the police vehicles running their blue flashing lights.
"They keep looking for their favorite driver to pass by," said Christine's mom, Susan.
Though they were BFFs (best friends forever), their loyalties were divided.
because he's from Wisconsin and I am too," Ashlee explained, pointing to her Menard T-shirt.
Christine wore her loyalty on her hat, proudly displaying her pretty pink #24 hat. "I think Jeff Gordon is going to win," Christina said.
The girls also snagged all the giveaway snag from passing golf carts, but their favorite souvenir? A pair of lugnuts, fresh from the garages.
USAF Thunderbirds will rev up crowds at Daytona
Top speeds at Daytona International Speedway will be actually above the track, courtesy of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, making their second flyover for a Daytona 500. NASCAR fans will see the team during the National Anthem.
Lt. Col. Case Cunningham, at a pre-race media interview, said today's flight is the first public appearance this year for the team.
"What a great way to unofficially kick off our 58th season of representing the precision, the pride, the professionalism of the America's airmen," said Cunningham, who leads the team.
Of the six men in today's flyover, Maj. Aaron Jelinek wears the #5 on his uniform upside. "I'm the lead solo pilot and I like to fly around upside down quite a bit," Jelinek explained. And that's besides flying within mere feet of his teammates.
NASCAR schedules 2012 Daytona 500 one week later
Next year's Daytona 500 has been moved back a week to Feb. 26, 2011, announced Joie Chitwood, the president of Daytona International Speedway, on Sunday.
NASCAR and Daytona made the change to add a week to the offseason and eliminate the racing season's early off week, which traditionally comes three weeks after the Daytona 500.
NASCAR officials felt the early week off took away some of the season's momentum built by holding NASCAR's biggest event, the Daytona 500, as the season-opening event.
Additionally, the possibility of the NFL's
-- which Chitwood called the "Daytona 500 of the NFL" -- being moved into mid-February in the upcoming labor negotiations played a part in NASCAR's schedule switch. NASCAR likely doesn't want to go head to head with the Super Bowl.
Chitwood said he didn't yet know how the Speedweeks schedule would be affected by the schedule change.
Doug Miller couldn’t sleep Saturday night. He was too excited about seeing his first Daytona 500.
“I was waking up to see if it was daylight yet,” Miller said.
Miller, 30, left his snowy home in Indianapolis on Friday to join his future in-laws who are camped out in the infield. Sunday morning, Miller’s future father-in-law Dave Galutz, 60, of Seminole, prepared breakfast – sausage, bacon and scrambled eggs – for the group.
Miller said he’s been partying with fellow race fans since he arrived.
“This is where it’s at,” Miller said with a smile.
DAYTONA BEACH - Immediately after crossing the finish line of the DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway, Tony Stewart went on his radio and congratulated his team on the Nationwide Series victory.
Stewart was sure of it - even if no one else was.
"If not, I was going to look really stupid saying, 'I won, I won,' Stewart said.
Stewart surged ahead of Clint Bowyer off the final turn to win by .007 seconds, the closest margin of victory in Nationwide Series history at Daytona.
It was Stewart's fourth consecutive victory in the series' season-opening race, and it was his sixth win in seven years.
With six laps to go, Stewart seemed like a long shot. He had to pit because of a flat tire during a late caution, dropping him from second-place to 11th.
But he hooked up with 21-year-old
shortly after the restart, and the duo slowly picked its way through the field.
"We knew if we hooked up with him, we could get through some of the cars in front of us," Stewart said. "I wasn't sure we could get all the way up to the front."
They didn't get to the front until the waning seconds of the race.
Bowyer was receiving a boost from Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the race's final turn, and when he saw Stewart coming on the outside, Bowyer darted in front of Stewart. Earnhardt Jr. saw the move as an opening to make a move of his own, prompting Bowyer to shift back in front of Earnhardt Jr.
The maneuver provided Stewart just enough time to lurch ahead before the finish line.
Stewart's momentum - powered by Cassill behind him - never let up.
"Landon pushed and pushed and pushed and did a really good job," said Stewart, who said he was confident in Cassill going into the race. "We got that momentum built. We never had to check up. We never were in a scenario at the end where we had to break that momentum."
Cassill finished third, and Earnhardt fourth.
The race was defined by cars pairing up to draft, the "lovebug" style of racing expected this weekend at Daytona.
Stewart showed faith in the young Cassill, who hasn't yet earned a full-time ride.
"I was worried about that because I'd never done this - actually, I've never done any drafting before in the Nationwide Series," Cassill said. "It was kind of a learn on the fly thing."
Danica Patrick finished 14th, her career-best finish in the Nationwide Series.
She led the 30th lap, making her the first woman in Daytona history to lead a NASCAR-sanctioned lap. Her jump to the front came from a push from Bowyer.
"She ran smart all day," Earnhardt Jr. said. "She did great and I hope she learned a lot. She had a great car and she did a good job keeping her fingers on it."
Despite the controversy surrounding the "ladybug" racing, Speedweeks has seen plenty of late-race drama.
"That's what's so much fun about this place," Bowyer said. "No matter what the race is, the ending's always great."