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Danica missed early chance for more Cup history

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    A wheel, tire and suspension parts sit in the stands after crash on the final lap of the NASCAR Nationwide Series auto race Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. Several fans were injured when large chunks of debris sailed into the grandstands after a car flew into the fence. (AP Photo/David Graham) (The Associated Press)

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    A tire rests in the stands after a crash at the conclusion of the NASCAR Nationwide Series auto race Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. Driver Kyle Larson's car hit the safety fence sending car parts and other debris flying into the stands injuring spectators. (AP Photo/David Graham) (The Associated Press)

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    Actor James Franco, Honorary Grand Marshall for the NASCAR Daytona 500 Sprint Cup Series auto race answers questions during a news conference at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013, in Daytona Beach, Fla.(AP Photo/John Raoux) (The Associated Press)

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    A spectator, center, is transported from the grandstands by emergency personnel after Kyle Larson's car hit the safety wall and fence along the front stretch on the final lap of the NASCAR Nationwide Series auto race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013. Several fans were injured when large chunks of debris flew into the grandstands. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack) (The Associated Press)

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    A tire from a car lies in the seats after a crash at the conclusion of the NASCAR Nationwide Series auto race Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. Kyle Larson's car hit the catch fence during the wreck. (AP Photo/David Graham) (The Associated Press)

Danica Patrick made history by becoming the first woman to start from the pole in a NASCAR Cup race.

But in the beginning of the Daytona 500, she failed to pull off another landmark.

Choosing the outside spot on the front row, Patrick gave up the lead to Jeff Gordon on the very first lap, missing out on an early chance to become the first female to lead a Cup lap.

Over the first 10 laps, she settled in behind Gordon and held on to the second spot in the 43-car field.

Patrick went on the radio before the race to thank her crew for giving her such a strong car. "I'll do the best job I can to do my end of the deal today," she said. "All in all, thank you for everything. You guys are awesome."

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

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"Drivers ... and Danica!!! ... start your engines."

With that unique command, actor James Franco has ordered the 43 cars to fire up for the Daytona 500.

The duty is normally carried out with the most famous words in racing: "Gentlemen, start your engines."

Of course, this year is different. Danica Patrick is the first woman to start from the pole in a Cup race, and Franco hinted beforehand that he was planning an audible. As unpredictable as ever, he passed on a chance to copy the command that was used when Patrick raced in the Indianapolis 500, "Lady and gentlemen, start your engines."

Now, it's time to go racing at Daytona.

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

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A HEARTY BUNCH: NASCAR FANS RETURN TO DANGER ZONE: Say this about NASCAR fans: They don't frighten easily.

One day after a harrowing crash injured dozens of fans in the stands, those same seats are filling up for the Daytona 500.

No one seems too concerned.

"These should be good seats," said Rick Barasso, as he settled into a spot that was right in the danger zone when Kyle Larson's car slammed into the catch fencing on the final lap of a Nationwide Series race Saturday. "I mean, what are the chances of it happening again?"

That seems to be the attitude of the fans heading into the Daytona 500, the season-opening Cup race and biggest event on the NASCAR schedule. Most people say it's worth the risk to sit next to the ear-rattling action — no more than 20 feet away for those in the first row. They love to hear the engines, smell the exhaust, and feel the wind whipping in their face as 43 cars go by at nearly 200 mph.

Still, there are a few fans fretting about the location of their seats.

Raymond Gober returned to the same location where he was nearly struck by a bolt from Larson's car. He scooped up the debris as a souvenir, though he acknowledged being a little nervous about his seat on the back row of the lower level. He even considered wearing his motorcycle helmet to the 500, but figured "everybody would start laughing at me." Next year, he plans to buy an upper-level seat in the main grandstand.

"My dad called and said, 'You're sitting in the same seats? "' Gober said. "He couldn't believe it."

There are grim reminders of what happened Saturday: a bloody spot that had been washed down (not entirely, though), a tire mark on a seat, another seat that was partially bent from getting struck by that same tire.

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

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EDITOR'S NOTE — "Daytona 500 Watch" shows you the Daytona 500 and events surrounding the race through the eyes of Associated Press journalists. Follow them on Twitter.

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