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Daytona 500 notes: Delays again, Larson slowed, more

Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Once again, rain showers are disrupting the Great American Race.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- The Daytona 500 continued its recent run of interruptions with a rain delay only 38 laps into the race.

NASCAR ordered cars to pit road early in the 200-lap race on Sunday with rain falling at Daytona International Speedway.

The Air Titan made its Daytona 500 debut. The Air Titan was designed to reduce track drying time.

Daytona delays are becoming common.

Matt Kenseth won a rain-shortened Daytona 500 in 2009. The 2010 Daytona 500 was interrupted for more than two hours because of a pothole in the track.

Rain forced the 2012 race to be run on a Monday night for the first time. Juan Pablo Montoya slammed into a jet dryer that night, igniting a raging inferno that caused another two-hour delay. Safety workers used Tide laundry detergent to clean up the track.

Larson's Daytona debut slowed by early incidents

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) Kyle Larson's debut in the Daytona 500 got off to a rough start with two early issues.

The Sprint Cup Series rookie hit the wall in the opening laps of Sunday's race. It caused his right front tire to go flat and he had to pit under green for repairs to the No. 42 Chevrolet.

The incident immediately put the 21-year-old down one lap from the rest of the field.

Larson then developed another problem with his tire and spun through the Daytona International Speedway grass on Lap 22 to bring out the first caution of the race.

Larson replaced Juan Pablo Montoya this year at Chip Ganassi Racing. Sponsor Target this week welcomed him to the organization with a YouTube video made with home videos from his childhood.

ANDERSON: Drivers to watch, my pick to win

Danica Patrick tops million Twitter followers

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Danica Patrick is the first NASCAR driver to surpass 1 million followers on Twitter - enough to rank her among the top female athletes in the world.

Patrick hit the mark in the days leading up to Sunday's season-opening Daytona 500.

"It just shows what incredible and loyal fans I have," she told The Associated Press before the race. "It's pretty humbling that 1 million people are curious about what I have to say and what I'm doing. I really can't thank everyone enough for their passion and interest."

Although Patrick receives harsh criticism from die-hard NASCAR fans who accuse her of not having earned her ride in the Sprint Cup Series, she's enormously popular among casual sports fans and her loyal supporters.

She thanked longtime personal sponsor TISSOT for getting her started on Twitter, and GoDaddy, her NASCAR sponsor, for allowing her to be "organic, real and fun" while using social media.

The 1 million mark easily tops all NASCAR drivers. Next highest is six-time champion Jimmie Johnson's 530,000 followers. Juan Pablo Montoya leads all IndyCar drivers with just under 800,000. Patrick's boyfriend, fellow NASCAR driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr., has 126,000 followers.

Topping the 1 million mark ranks Patrick among the top female athletes. She's got more followers than Lindsey Vonn, Maria Sharapova, Mia Hamm and Anna Kournikova.

Those she still trails? Serena Williams' 4 million followers and U.S. soccer player Alex Morgan's 1.3 million.

Five things about Daytona 500 entertainment

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Five things to know about what's going on at Daytona International Speedway before Sunday's season-opening Daytona 500:

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CHRIS EVANS: Daytona called on Captain America to kick off "The Great American Race." Evans served as grand marshal and gave the command for drivers to start their engines before the Daytona 500. Evans stars in "Captain America: The Winter Solider," scheduled for release April 4. He joined a list of previous Daytona 500 grand marshals that included Ben Affleck, Kate Upton, Matthew McConaughey and James Franco. He posed for pictures beforehand with the United States Air Force Thunderbirds. Evans was thrilled to get tabbed for the signature start. "It is an honor," he said. "It's a little intimidating at this point." Evans attended one previous NASCAR race and said he was wowed by how pit crews operate. "It's all things that are relatively foreign to me," he said. "To see how much goes into it, there's just an enormous amount of respect." Evans, though, is no gearhead. "I don't even drive that fast," he said. "It's not really my speed."

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GARY SINISE: Actor Gary Sinise's entourage at Daytona included a special guest. Sinise, most famous for his role as Lt. Dan Taylor in the 1994 blockbuster "Forrest Gump," brought injured Marine Sgt. Mike Nicholson with him to the famed track. Nicholson lost both legs and an arm in a bombing in Afghanistan. The Gary Sinise Foundation, which raises money to help the nation's veterans, first responders and their families, recently finished a smart-technology home for Nicholson. "I've been able to use my success in the movie business to shine a light on some of the things our military are going through," Sinise said. He was the honorary starter and waved the green flag to start the race. He waited nearly two years to attend his first NASCAR race. He was supposed to serve as grand marshal at Martinsville Speedway in March 2012, but was in car accident just days before the race and ended up in the hospital. "This is my first race and I get to do it in style by waving the green flag," he said. "I've very much been looking forward to it."

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ALOE BLACC: Aloe Blacc promised and then delivered a more traditional national anthem Sunday, a day after "America's most patriotic rock band" stole the headlines at Daytona. Madison Rising's rendition of the national anthem had a few drivers chuckling and some fans shaking their heads before the Nationwide Series season opener. Their head-scratching version caused driver Brad Keselowski to say, "I wish they would just sing the damn song." Blacc heard about the buzz the performance created and said fans "don't need to worry about that with me. I come from a military family," he said. "My dad is a retired major in the Marine Corps. When it comes to the anthem, you honor the country and you sing it so everybody can sing it with you. You want to make sure everyone can sing along." Blacc performed during the NBA's All-Star game weekend. His profile was boosted when his song, "The Man," was played in commercials during the NFL playoffs. Blacc had no idea it would turn into a postseason anthem. "It was just a song I put together for my album," he said. "I didn't expect it to be a lead single or anything. I got a huge opportunity by Beats by (Dr.) Dre to be in the commercial. That gave it legs we never really expected."

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LUKE BRYAN: Of all the stars attending the Daytona 500, pop-country singer Luke Bryan clearly had the most NASCAR ties. Bryan grew up in southwest Georgia watching NASCAR and cheering for Cale Yarborough. "We grew up loving racing and I've been a part of so many races through the years but this is my first Daytona 500." Bryan performed the pre-race concert in the Daytona infield, singing four songs that included hits "That's My Kind Of Night" and "Crash My Party."

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OLYMPIC STARS: Snowboard halfpipe gold medalist Kaitlyn Farrington and U.S. Paralympic runner Blake Leeper were honorary race officials. Leeper's role called for him to hand the green starting flag to Sinise. "I'm going to jog up the ramp on my blades and walk up to Gary. So we're going to have a guy with no legs handing a flag to a guy who played a guy with no legs. The irony of that is pretty awesome." Leeper was born with both legs missing below the knee and has worn prosthetics since he was 9 months old. He's been running for just over three years and is training for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio in an attempt to become the first double amputee American to compete for the U.S. "I just want to thank (Daytona), the fact they had me, a person with a disability, as an honorary race official is really huge," Leeper said. "I feel like I am the face of the 54 million disabled Americans and hopefully I'll change their lives today by them seeing me out there today, showing anything is possible."

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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