Early wreck takes out top contenders at Daytona

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We’ve had the first big crash of the Daytona 500.

And a bunch of top contenders have seen their chances go up in smoke.

Former 500 winners Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart and Jamie McMurray were caught up in the crash on lap 33. So was defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski.

The melee began coming through the tri-oval when Kasey Kahne’s car began to slide across the track after appearing to get bumped from behind by Kyle Busch.

At least two other drivers also got caught up in the mess: Juan Pablo Montoya and Casey Mears. Joey Logano made a great move to dodge the spinning cars.

Pole sitter Danica Patrick made it through unscathed and remains near the front of the pack.

_ Paul Newberry _ http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

___

HANG ON TIGHT: From one defending champion to another, Brad Keselowski had a piece of advice for Daytona 500 starter Ray Lewis:

Don’t drop the flag.

The retired Baltimore Ravens star served as honorary starter for the Daytona 500. Lewis waved the green flag without incident Sunday to start the “Great American Race.”

Lewis, who said he was nervous, got a quick tip from Keselowski.

Brad texted me on the way in, the one rule is, don’t drop the flag,” Lewis said before the race. “I’m going to squeeze the flag very hard. I want to watch this and be a part of it. To be here is an awesome experience.”

Lewis was one of several stars at Daytona International Speedway. Rappers T.I. and 50 Cent attended NASCAR’s season opener, which has Danica Patrick starting on the pole.

Oscar-nominated actor James Franco was the grand marshall and said, “Drivers and Danica, start your engines!” The Zac Brown Band played a pre-race concert in the Daytona International Speedway infield. Band member Clay Cook performed the national anthem.

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