Nascar

The Latest: Hall of Famer Tomlinson won't fumble green flag

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

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11:20 a.m.

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NFL Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson seems like the perfect person to wave the green flag to start the Daytona 500.

''Jimmie Johnson told me, `Just don't drop it,''' Tomlinson said. ''I wasn't a guy that fumbled a lot, so I'm not worried about dropping it today.''

The flag should be in sure hands: Tomlinson fumbled just 30 times in nearly 4,000 touches over his 11-year NFL career.

Tomlinson is the honorary starter, and former ''American Idol'' contestant Jordin Sparks will sing the national anthem.

Sparks and Tomlinson, who star in the film ''God Bless The Broken Road,'' both called attending the race a bucket list item.

Sparks says she plans to shave almost 20 seconds of her anthem performance in the 2008 Super Bowl. She earned rave reviews for her rendition.

''Usually in a football stadium or a different stadium, half the crowd is behind me,'' she said. ''Now, I can see as far as my eye can see. Just a little more pressure.''

Her performance will be followed by a flyover from the famed U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.

-Dan Gelston

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10:45 a.m.

Mario Andretti is at Daytona as an honorary race official, 50 years after his victory in ''The Great American Race.''

Andretti won the 1967 Daytona 500 and is one of only four drivers to win both the 500 and the prestigious Rolex 24 sports car race. He joins AJ Foyt, Jamie McMurray and Jeff Gordon in that club.

Andretti is a fixture in IndyCar, and his visits to NASCAR are rare. But he understands this race is the equivalent of the Indianapolis 500 and a Daytona 500 victory carries the same weight on a drivers' resume.

''There are many drivers who are deserving to win, and never win the big ones,'' Andretti said. ''I guarantee during the driver meeting, there is more tension than any other race. This is the crown jewel of NASCAR. The winner of today's race will have a big, big feather on his or her hat.''

Daytona International Speedway officials presented Andretti with a painting of his two winning cars at Daytona.

- Jenna Fryer

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10:20 a.m.

Denny Hamlin is trying to join an exclusive club of repeat Daytona 500 champions.

Hamlin would become only the fourth driver to win consecutive Daytona 500s, and the first in 22 years. Richard Petty, a seven-time Daytona 500 champ, went back-to-back in 1973 and 1974. Cale Yarborough did the same in 1983 and 1984. Sterling Marlin was the last driver - in 1994 and 1995 - to have his name etched on the Harley J. Earl Trophy two straight years.

Hamlin defeated Martin Truex Jr. by 0.010 seconds last year, the closest finish in race history.

Hamlin is in solid shape in the No. 11 Toyota to be a contender to repeat. He won a 150-mile qualifying race last week and starts fourth.

- Dan Gelston

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10:15 a.m.

The Daytona 500 will have perfect weather.

The high is expected to be 67 degrees in Daytona Beach, with clear skies, plenty of sunshine and zero chance of rain.

NASCAR's season opener was delayed by rain twice in the last five years, getting pushed into prime time in 2014 and postponed to Monday in 2012.

The exhibition Clash at Daytona last week was postponed a day because of heavy rain.

- Mark Long

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10 a.m.

It's Daytona Day!

The 59th running of the Daytona 500 begins Sunday afternoon, with Chase Elliott on the pole for the second consecutive year. Although Elliott had the fastest car in qualifying, Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. is getting most of the attention. Earnhardt is returning from his fifth documented concussion, the latest costing him half of last season.

Earnhardt will start alongside Elliott on the front row of ''The Great American Race.''

Elliott won one of two qualifying races Thursday. Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin, the defending Daytona 500 winner, won the other.

Others to watch in the season opener - NASCAR's most prestigious race - include Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. The Team Penske teammates won three of four restrictor-plate races last season.

- Mark Long

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