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Sunday July 12th, 2020 4:54AM

The Latest: Busch starts 31st, wins 1st stage of Daytona 500

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

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4:03 p.m.

Kyle Busch has won the first stage of the Daytona 500, making an impressive run through the 40-car field after starting 31st.

Alex Bowman was second, followed by defending Cup Series champion Joey Logano, Daniel Suarez and Ryan Blaney.

The end of the stage came a few laps after Kurt Busch, Bubba Wallace, Jamie McMurray and defending Daytona 500 champion Austin Dillion were involved in a crash.

The first caution of the race came after Corey LaJoie blew a right-front tire and wrecked his face. Yes, his face. The front of LaJoie's No. 32 Old Spice Ford featured a picture of his face and beard. It was mangled after the flapping rubber from the blown tire ripped up sheet metal.

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3:50 p.m.

Kurt Busch, Bubba Wallace, Jamie McMurray and defending Daytona 500 champion Austin Dillion were involved in the first crash of the Daytona 500.

Busch appeared to get loose in Turn 2 while passing Ricky Stenhouse Jr. about 50 laps into "The Great American Race."

Busch, Wallace and McMurray managed to get their cars to pit road for repairs. Wallace and McMurray seemed to sustain the most damage.

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3:20 p.m.

Joe Gibbs Racing and Fox Sports have paid tribute to late JGR co-founder J.D. Gibbs.

The team and the television network recognized Gibbs during the 11th lap of the Daytona 500.

Team owner Joe Gibbs closed his eyes during the tribute. Crew members stood atop the pit road wall and held up a banner remembering Gibbs and all he did for the team. Fox showed a picture of J.D. Gibbs smiling.

Gibbs' favorite number was 11, the car number Denny Hamlin has driven for the team since 2005.

The eldest son of Joe Gibbs died last month following a long battle with a degenerative neurological disease. He was 49.

Hamlin is dedicating this NASCAR season to J.D.'s memory. The younger Gibbs discovered Hamlin at a late-model test at Hickory Motor Speedway in North Carolina in the early 2000s.

Hamlin's charity is donating $111 to the J.D. Gibbs Legacy Fund for each lap he leads in the No. 11 Toyota in 2019.

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3:07 p.m.

The Daytona 500 is under way, with William Byron leading the 40-car to the green flag.

The 21-year-old Byron and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman, 25, made up the youngest front row in the 61-year history of the "The Great American Race."

Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray and Casey Mears had to drop to the back of the field because of unapproved changes to their cars. Larson and Mears changed transmissions; McMurray went to the back of the field because of a rear gear change.

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1:15 p.m.

J.J. Watt used an offseason film session to prepare for the Daytona 500.

The Houston Texans star and Daytona 500 grand marshal watched video of the last decade of celebrities who kicked off the race with the most famous phrase in motorsports. Watt said Dale Earnhardt Jr. had "tons of energy" during last year's command.

"I practiced in front of my girlfriend at home last night," Watt said. "She gave me the thumbs up, so we're good to go guys."

Watt was raised in Wisconsin and said a seventh-grade teacher turned him onto the sport, specifically former driver Dick Trickle. Watt said his teacher would let the class know Trickle's results each week. Watt said he liked both Earnhardts and Jeff Gordon, and could feel the excitement in Daytona.

"This track is huge. It's massive," Watt said.

Watt is a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and well known for his charity work with the Justin J. Watt Foundation, which provides after-school opportunities for children. Following Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Watt set a goal to raise $200,000 for recovery efforts in Houston. He ended up raising more than $41 million, helping earn him the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award.

"I'm in a position where I get to play a game for a living and be compensated very well to do it," Watt said. "We have a chance to use that platform to give back and do good with it."

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12:45 p.m.

Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman could feel the buzz at the Daytona 500.

Edelman, sporting neatly trimmed facial hair, served as honorary starter and was set to wave the green flag for Sunday's race. The New England Patriots star receiver called NASCAR drivers "absolutely insane."

"It's a respect level for these guys, who are clearly adrenaline junkies," Edelman said. "Football players, we're missing screws. These dudes certainly are, too."

Edelman had his bushy beard clipped on a recent taping of "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," with the trimmings used to raise money for the Boys & Girls Club of Boston.

Edelman doesn't know if he'll grow the beard again to its rugged length again next season. But he grew it by taking the advice of Patriots coach Bill Belichick to heart.

"He says put everything in the draw and worry about it after football season," Edelman said. "So I put my razor in the draw and I worried about it after football season."

Edelman earned Super Bowl MVP honors after catching 10 passes for 141 yards while helping lift the Patriots to a 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams.

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12:30 p.m.

NASCAR CEO Jim France says the France family remains committed to NASCAR.

"This sport was built by families," France said at the Daytona 500 drivers meeting. "It's so important that we still remember this is still a family business. Our family is committed to it."

There have been reports that suggested the France family was looking to sell NASCAR, reports that have not been specifically addressed by the current leadership.

France has been visible at almost every NASCAR race since he took over last August following the arrest of his nephew, Brian France. But he's mostly kept a low public profile. He has offered no public insight as to how he plans to end NASCAR's slump and has given no interviews during his six months at the helm.

France also encouraged drivers to make an exciting Daytona 500 after three exhibition races produced lackluster racing and little excitement beyond a pair of crashes Jimmie Johnson triggered.

"I hope a few of you drivers will get down on the bottom with Denny (Hamlin) and Chase (Elliott) and make a show today," France said.

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12:15 p.m.

A.J. Foyt was thrilled to return to Daytona International Speedway.

The 84-year-old former Daytona 500 winner was happy to be anywhere, really.

"Hell, it's nice to be back instead of the funeral home," Foyt said.

Foyt won the 1972 Daytona 500 —to go with his four Indianapolis 500 victories— and said he was lucky to be born with the ability "to adapt myself pretty quick" when it came to driving different kinds of cars throughout multiple series.

Foyt said he's pretty much stepped back from the day-to-day operations of his IndyCar team.

"I go in when they need money and raise hell," he said.

Foyt has battled heath issues of late and struggled to hear questions inside the media room.

"I hate hearing aids 'cause when you go take a leak it sounds like 100 gallons of water running," he quipped.

___

12 p.m.

Country singer Jake Owen has been to the Daytona 500 a few times and knows what to give fans for his pre-race concert.

"Hopefully, a damn good time," Owen said.

A native Floridian, Owen featured Daytona beach in his 2013 hit "Beachin.'" Owen played golf with his friend Kevin Harvick on Saturday and picked the 2007 Daytona 500 champ to win it again.

"From what he told me, he's feeling pretty good about it," Owen said.

The track presented Owen with a custom-made Daytona 500 guitar. Late NASCAR artist Sam Bass designed and painted it. Bass helped design paint schemes and program covers that illuminated an entire sport. His death was announced Saturday. He was 57.

Owen was touched by the gift that is believed to be the last guitar Bass made before his death.

___

11:15 a.m.

Kyle Larson will start the Daytona 500 from the rear of the field because of a transmission change.

Larson's No. 42 Chevrolet had a transmission leak before practice Saturday. The crew tried to fix it, but ended up swapping it out altogether.

Larson had been scheduled to start 26th in the 40-car field.

Jamie McMurray, expected to retire from full-time racing after the 500, also went to the back of the field because of a gear change. McMurray won the 2010 Daytona 500 and had been slated to start 16th.

Casey Mears also went to the back because of a transmission change, but he didn't have far to go. Mears was already starting last.

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10:30 a.m.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. can't step away from the Daytona 500.

Earnhardt won "The Great American Race" in 2004 and a decade later and has stayed connected with NASCAR's season opener even in retirement. He is serving as the honorary pace truck driver Sunday, the first time in race history a truck will lead the field to the green flag.

Earnhardt was the grand marshal for last year's race and gave the command for drivers to start their engines. Who knows, maybe next year Earnhardt can sing the national anthem or work concessions.

"I'll try and find other odd jobs each year as we go forward," Earnhardt said.

Earnhardt retired after the 2017 seasons with 26 career Cup wins. He owns JR Motorsports in the second-tier Xfinity Series and was back in victory lane Saturday with driver Michael Annett. But Earnhardt, who also works for NBC Sports, has enjoyed retirement with his wife and young daughter.

"I thought when I got out of the car, I'd miss it really bad and that would kind of wane," Earnhardt said. "It's actually the other way around. When I got around the car, it was 'Thank God, I'm going to have some time off.' I was just so happy to be out from under that pressure. But as time goes on, you miss it more and more and more, which was unexpected."

___

10 a.m.

William Byron will start from the pole in the 61st running of the Daytona 500, combining with teammate Alex Bowman to create the youngest front row in the history of "The Great American Race."

Byron is 21, and Bowman is 25. Both are driving Chevrolets for Hendrick Motorsports.

Six Ford drivers will line up behind the Hendrick duo, including defending Cup Series champion Joey Logano. He starts fourth, trying to become the first reigning champ since Dale Jarrett in 2000 to win the season opener.

Defending race winner Austin Dillon starts from the 10th row in the No. 3 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.

Eight drivers will make their Daytona 500 debuts, with most of them starting in the back of the pack.

It's also the first Daytona 500 since 2011 that doesn't include a female driver. Danica Patrick stepped away from NASCAR after last year's opener.

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More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/apf-AutoRacing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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