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President Trump to serve as grand marshal of Daytona 500

President Trump will tell drivers to “start your engines” before the start of the Daytona 500 on Sunday.
President Trump will tell drivers to “start your engines” before the start of the Daytona 500 on Sunday.
(Saul Loeb / AFP via Getty Images)

NASCAR knows its audience and has set up a near-perfect pairing Sunday when President Trump gives the command of “Start your engines,” as the grand marshal of the Daytona 500.

Trump will be the second president to be the grand marshal. George W. Bush had that honor in 2004.

Word of Trump’s visit to the Daytona International Speedway started to leak Tuesday when airspace restrictions were put in place for race day. In addition, the Secret Service tweeted Wednesday that no drone activity would be allowed within a 30-mile radius of the track.

The marriage of NASCAR fans and the Republican party has long been in place. Many of the RVs parked in the spacious infield have Trump flags flying on the top of their vehicles. There are life-size cutouts of the president and Trump look-alikes at the races this week.

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Brian France, former NASCAR chief executive, publicly endorsed Trump in 2016 even as NASCAR was dealing with an issue where Trump’s criticism of Mexican immigrants angered some in the sport, including the sponsor of the truck series. It caused NASCAR to cancel its award banquet from Trump’s Doral property.

Jimmie Johnson comes to his final Daytona 500 after a career that includes seven series championships. Is he the GOAT of NASCAR? His teammate thinks so.

France also recruited drivers to appear at a Trump rally in Georgia. France later clarified that the endorsement was a personal one, not one from NASCAR. Trump said at rallies that he had received NASCAR’s endorsement.

France stepped down as chief executive when he was arrested and later convicted of driving under the influence in New York.

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Last year, Trump gave car owner Roger Penske the Presidential Medal of Freedom and has hosted Series winners, as did President Obama.

Trump’s re-election campaign will air an ad on Fox’s coverage of the race. And in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race, Joe Nemechek had a Trump/Pence 2020 logo on his car.

By contrast, in 1992 Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton was grand marshal of a NASCAR race at Darlington, S.C. He was roundly booed wherever he went and drivers had to be persuaded to have their picture taken with him. Clinton was widely criticized by the crowd as being a “draft dodger.”

When Clinton gave the start command, the crowd was chanting “Bush, Bush” for incumbent President George H.W. Bush. Winner Darrell Waltrip showed up in the winner’s circle wearing a “Bush/Quayle ‘92” pin.

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Xfinity series season begins

Noah Gragson won his first Xfinity Series race Saturday, taking advantage of a restart with two laps to go. He was declared the winner before the checkered flag when there was a wreck on the final lap. Harrison Burton was second and Timmy Hill was third. It was the first Xfinity race of the season.

“I’m speechless right now,” Gragson said. “I didn’t think this would come. ... I spent a lot of time with Dale [Earnhardt] Jr. this week, talked to him for about two hours, and wanted to be a better speedway racer. He told me, go have fun — wreckers or checkers. … Be there at the end, and just go and lead the damn thing. That’s what we did.”

Gragson drives for JR Motorpsorts, owned by Earnhardt Jr.

“[This] never gets old, man,” Earnhardt said. “I don’t expect I’ll ever do it again as a driver, so I’ll take these whenever they’re coming. If I can get it here as an owner, or part of any kind of success like this, it’s a great feeling.”

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Honoring Kobe

Bubba Wallace, driving the No. 43 of Richard Petty Motorsports, will honor Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others killed in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26 with a decal on his car.

“To see somebody have that big of an impact, you can only hope to leave that sort of impact when it’s your time to go,” Wallace said. “Seeing how he was as a father and player, I want to line yourself up to follow that path. It was a huge loss for the sports world and just for the world in general.”

Wallace will also have a decal on his front roof pillar dedicated to John Andretti, a former driver for Petty, who died Jan. 30 of cancer.


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