- Associated Press - Saturday, February 22, 2014

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


LAST DANCE: Drivers had one last practice Saturday for the Daytona 500. For Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer, David Ragan and Michael Waltrip, it was their first opportunity to turn laps in backup cars. Truex, Bowyer, Ragan and Waltrip were involved in a last-lap wreck in the second qualifying race Thursday night. Their teams worked tirelessly to get backup cars prepped for practice Friday, but they failed to get on track for the early session. Rain washed out the second practice, so Saturday’s track time was important to get cars fine-tuned for “The Great American Race.” Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray and Carl Edwards also were in the huge wreck, but they managed to get track time Friday. “I was definitely relieved to get some time in the car,” Truex said. “Without a shadow of a doubt, this car is better than the one we ran the other night in the qualifying race. The Furniture Row guys did another good job. I even hate to call this car a backup because of how good it felt.”


NATIONWIDE NAIL-BITER: Regan Smith won the Nationwide Series season opener Saturday, edging Brad Keselowski at the finish line in overtime. It was redemption for Smith, who was leading on the last lap a year ago when he tried to block Keselowski to preserve the win. The move triggered a 12-car accident that sent Kyle Larson’s airborne car into the fence. Nearly 30 fans were injured from debris that sailed into the grandstands. Smith and Keselowski avoided contact this time and treated fans to another tight finish at Daytona. The win was Smith’s fourth career Nationwide victory and first at Daytona. Keselowski finished second, followed Trevor Bayne, Kyle Busch and Elliott Sadler. It was the second-closest finish in series history at Daytona and seventh closest in any Nationwide event.


KISS CAM: Rapper 50 Cent is back at Daytona and he’s looking for another kiss. Born Curtis Jackson, 50 Cent tried to plant an awkward smooch on Fox reporter Erin Andrews last year. He failed to connect, but he’s not giving up in his return. “I was looking forward to kissing somebody,” he said Saturday. He didn’t have to look far. Sharing a stage with Swan Racing drivers Cole Whitt and Parker Kligerman, 50 Cent turned and said, “I’m going to kiss Cole.” Whitt responded: “Only if I win.” The ultra-successful rapper was at Daytona to celebrate his latest business deal. He brought his headphones and audio line, SMS Audio, into NASCAR via a partnership with Swan Racing. But his trip wasn’t all business. Kligerman gave 50 Cent a wild ride around the high-banked track in a Toyota Camry. They topped out at 135 mph. “I didn’t know a Camry could do that!” 50 Cent said. He also didn’t know actor Gary Sinise of “Forrest Gump” fame would be on hand. The rapper yelled, “Run Forrest!” before they shook hands.


DOUBLE-DUTY DEBATE: NASCAR is looking at potentially limiting the number of second- and third-tier events Sprint Cup regulars can race during the season. Officials discussed potential rules adjustments in January, and Kyle Busch’s victory in the Truck Series season opener Friday night could lead to more debate - and maybe even change. Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing operations, said Saturday that “it’s something we are really studying.” The problem is teams often sell sponsorship packages that include big-name drivers getting behind the wheel for certain races. It happens regularly with Dale Earnhardt Jr., who owns a Nationwide team, as well as with Truck Series team owners Busch and Brad Keselowski. Busch brushed off the criticism he got from fans disappointed to see him win for the 99th time in one of the two lower series. “People don’t like it. I’m stealing candy from a baby,” he said. “‘Til the rules are changed or everybody else grows up and can beat me, then we’re racing.”


STAR WATCH: The Daytona 500, NASCAR’s season opener and stock-car racing’s premier event, prides itself in bringing out stars to bolster pre-race activities. The lineup fell a little short this year, but Daytona had a few last-minute additions that could help. Larry The Cable Guy will be on hand, and snowboard halfpipe gold medalist Kaitlyn Farrington and PGA Tour golfer Ian Poulter were added as honorary race officials. United States Paralympic athlete Blake Leeper was added earlier this week. They join “Captain America” star Chris Evans (grand marshal), actor Gary Sinise (honorary starter), singer Aloe Blacc (national anthem) and singer Luke Bryan (pre-race concert). Oh, and rapper 50 Cent will be on hand for the second consecutive year.

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