The Latest: NASCAR applauds Danica Patrick before Daytona

Danica Patrick_523283

Danica Patrick prepares for practice for the NASCAR Daytona 500 Cup Series auto race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018. Patrick has one last chance at a win in NASCAR, on its biggest stage, at the Daytona 500. She will run only that event, then focus on the Indianapolis […]

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

1 p.m.

NASCAR recognized Danica Patrick in the pre-race driver meeting in honor of her final Daytona 500.

Patrick is retiring from NASCAR after Sunday’s race, and from racing altogether after the Indianapolis 500 in May.

As NASCAR executive Steve O’Donnell went through the list of honorees and dignitaries at the Daytona 500, he included Patrick. O’Donnell thanked her for her contributions to motorsports and asked her fellow drivers to applaud Patrick.

Patrick is the only woman to start the Daytona 500 from the pole, lead laps in the race and is the highest-finishing female driver in the 60 years of the race.

At the end of the driver meeting, she exited the tent alone, head high and focused. She kept a steely straight-ahead glare and showed no emotion.

1 p.m.

Peyton Manning walked the red carpet at the Daytona 500 after a brief practice as pace car driver for ”The Great American Race.”

Manning was trailed by his son, Marshall, and the two posed alongside the Harley J. Earl trophy. When asked how much time he had in the pace car, Manning said ”not much. About 20 minutes.”

Manning had the cap of a Sharpie pen in his mouth as he signed autographs while walking into the pre-race driver meeting. He also said he was rooting for pole-sitter Alex Bowman, who is sponsored by Manning-endorsed Nationwide.

Manning is the bigger of the NFL MVP’s at Sunday’s race. The five-time MVP quarterback was in an official capacity, while two-time MVP Aaron Rodgers is at the race as the boyfriend of Danica Patrick. Rodgers has yet to publicly comment on the new relationship or his time in Daytona. He arrived Wednesday and watched Patrick compete in a qualifying race from atop her pit box Thursday night.

12:45 p.m.

Chipper Jones is ready to take his cuts at Daytona.

Jones served as the honorary race official at ”The Great American Race.”

Jones is a big NASCAR fan and autographed some baseball bats for driver Chase Elliott. Jones was a long-time fan of Jeff Gordon and said he was still cheering for the No. 24 car. That ride now belongs to 20-year-old William Byron.

Jones said the Atlanta Braves teams of the 1990s loved NASCAR.

Unlike some Daytona 500 celebrities who know little about NASCAR, Jones talked about the photo finish at the Xfinity Series race and his excitement at meeting the drivers.

Jones hit 468 career home runs and was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame last month in his first year of eligibility.

-Dan Gelston

12:15 p.m.

Charlize Theron is cheering for Danica Patrick in her final NASCAR race.

Theron is the honorary starter for the Daytona 500 and will wave the green flag to start the race.

Theron said it was ”special” to attend Patrick’s finale. Patrick is the only female driver to win a pole and lead laps at the Daytona 500.

”As a woman, that just seems pretty incredible,” Theron said. ”For me to be able to witness her last race, that feels very special. The girl in me is secretly obviously cheering for her. I just love that even my kids were just impressed that girl was racing cars today, too.”

Theron also busted on ”Italian Job” co-star Mark Wahlberg for puking during driver training for the movie. She also laughed as she recalled a trip to Daytona as a teen where she got drunk and then went skydiving.

– Dan Gelston

11:40 a.m.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has an official role in his first Daytona 500 as a retired race-car driver.

The two-time Daytona 500 winner is the grand marshal for Sunday’s season-opening race, and once his duties are complete, Earnhardt plans to watch ”The Great American Race” from atop the pit box of pole-sitter Alex Bowman. Bowman replaced Earnhardt in the No. 88 Chevrolet following Earnhardt’s retirement at the end of last season.

The one thing Earnhardt doesn’t plan on doing is offering any advice to Bowman. He said it’s way too late in the preparation process for Earnhardt to offer any wisdom.

Earnhardt, meanwhile, chose a T-shirt depicting his late father at the 1987 Daytona 500 for his grand marshal duties.

-Jenna Fryer

11:30 a.m.

Four-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton will be rooting for Bubba Wallace in the Daytona 500.

Wallace is the first black driver since 1969 to start the Daytona 500.

Hamilton followed Wallace on Twitter hours before Sunday’s race and then sent a message to the driver on the social-media site.

”Wishing you the absolute best today in your race. Smash it!!” Hamilton posted.

Hamilton is mixed race and the first and only black driver to race in Formula One.

-Jenna Fryer

10:45 a.m.

The Daytona 500 has a star-studded lineup of celebrities on hand for ”The Great American Race.”

And that doesn’t include Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who is expected to be in the pits of girlfriend and driver Danica Patrick.

Academy Award winner Charlize Theron is the honorary starter. Retired NFL quarterback Peyton Manning is the honorary pace-car driver and will lead the 40-car field to the green flag. Retired NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the grand marshal and will say the famous phrase, ”Drivers, start your engines.” Country group Rascal Flatts will perform an infield concert. And Navy Band Southeast will perform the national anthem.

Newly elected Baseball Hall of Famer Chipper Jones will serve as an honorary race official. Jones will be introduced at the drivers’ meeting, take a lap around Daytona International Speedway in a parade car and participate in question-and-answer sessions with fans.

-Mark Long

10:30 a.m.

The Daytona 500 is sold out for the third straight year.

The single-ticket sellout was announced a day before Sunday’s race. While most of NASCAR’s tracks have suffered from serious attendance woes, Daytona International Speedway continues to pack the place for the sport’s signature event.

The track holds 101,500 seats, and countless more hard-partying fans stuff the infield. DIS was helped by a $400 million overhaul known as ”Daytona Rising” that transformed the track into a modern sports stadium.

-Dan Gelston

10:20 a.m.

The green flag is a few hours away for the Daytona 500.

Alex Bowman will start from the pole in the No. 88 Chevrolet that used to be driven by star Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is missing ”The Great American Race” for the first time since 1999. Earnhardt will serve as grand marshal.

Other story lines to watch for the 60th running of NASCAR’s premier event:

-Danica Patrick makes her final NASCAR start. Patrick reunited with GoDaddy for a one-off event and will conclude her racing career at the Indianapolis 500 in May.

-It would be the youngest field (average age) in Daytona 500 history if not for 66-year-old Mark Thompson, a Vietnam veteran making his second career Cup Series start.

-Darrell ”Bubba” Wallace Jr. will become the first black driver since 1969 to start the Daytona 500. Wallace is driving the iconic No. 43 car for Richard Petty Motorsports.

-Defending race winner Kurt Busch is trying to become the first to win consecutive Daytona 500s since Sterling Marlin in 1995.

-Mark Long reported.

More AP auto racing:

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