The Latest: Denny Hamlin leading Daytona 500 after 50 laps

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) 2:19 p.m.

The Latest from the Daytona 500 on Sunday (all times local):

Denny Hamlin is leading the Daytona 500 after 50 laps.

Hamlin took over the lead from Dale Earnhardt Jr. during the first series of pit stops.

Hamlin was out front and had several Joe Gibbs Racing teammates in tow, with Kyle Busch running second and Matt Kenseth fourth. Another Toyota, driven by Mart Truex Jr., was third.

-Mark Long


2 p.m.

Pole-sitter Chase Elliott is out of the Daytona 500.

Just 19 laps into ''The Great American Race,'' the Sprint Cup rookie lost control of his No. 24 Chevrolet coming out of Turn 4 and slid into the grass infield. The front end of his car lifted off the ground, and the rough ride caused enough damage that his car had to be towed to the garage.

Elliott was transported to the infield care center, evaluated and released.

Carl Edwards and Regan Smith also were involved in the wreck, the first of the day.

-Mark Long


1:33 p.m.


Gerard Butler screamed the command to more than 100,000 fans, a tweaked version of the actor's famous ''This is Sparta'' line from the 2006 hit movie ''300.''

He gave the command for drivers to start their engines, and the Daytona 500 got under way a few minutes later.

Rookie Chase Elliott led the 40-car field to the green flag. Joey Logano is the defending champion.

-Dan Gelston


1 p.m.

NASCAR executive Mike Helton brought some humor to the pre-race driver meeting, a traditionally staid ceremonial recognition of dignitaries that concludes with drivers receiving one final briefing before the race.

Helton one-by-one introduced all the Hall of Fame drivers in attendance, with 2015 inductee Bill Elliott last. Elliott is a two-time Daytona 500 winner and former NASCAR champion, and his 20-year-old son will make his Daytona 500 debut Sunday.

Chase Elliott replaced Jeff Gordon in the iconic No. 24 Chevrolet and put it on the pole for the 500, so Helton simply introduced his Hall of Fame father as ''Chase's dad.''

He also noted that Hall of Famer Glenn Wood is attending his 70th consecutive Daytona 500, but wryly noted that it's only the 58th running of ''The Great American Race.''

''They did race down there on the beach, though,'' Helton smiled.

- Jenna Fryer


12:30 p.m.

The Daytona 500 is a star-studded attraction that draws all sorts of celebrities.

Here are some of the ones on hand:

Model Charlotte McKinney, rapper Wyclef Jean, TV personality Brody Jenner, actor Jason Biggs, actor Justin Bartha, actor Larenz Tate, Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Vincent Jackson, Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Paul Posluszny, and Washington Nationals outfielder and reigning National League MVP Bryce Harper.

- Mark Long


12:15 p.m.

Actor Gerard Butler is keeping his command to start engines before the Daytona 500 under wraps.

''My command? That's a surprise,'' he said. ''I have something up my sleeve, though, that I think you might like - or not. We'll see what happens when I get out there. I like living in the moment.''

One reporter impressed Butler with a tweaked version of the actor's famous ''This is Sparta'' line from the 2006 hit movie ''300.'' The reporter asked Butler if he considered opening with ''This is Daytona!''

''Now, I'm going to say, `No, no, don't be silly,''' Butler said. ''And then I'm going to go to the organizers and say, (can I use) `This is Daytona?'''

- Mark Long


11:30 a.m.

Ken Griffey Jr. says steroid-tainted slugger Barry Bonds deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

Griffey is serving as honorary starter for the Daytona 500, where he will waive the green flag to start the 58th running of ''The Great American Race.'' Before he took his spot in the starter's stand Sunday, he met with the media and one of the first questions was about Bonds belonging in Cooperstown.

''Yeah,'' Griffey said after a long pause. ''I think that overall, when you look what people have done, yeah. It's not my vote, so I can't vote for him. But if you look at what he's done, those numbers speak for themselves.''

The polarizing home run king, Bonds is returning to the major leagues as hitting coach for the Miami Marlins. Bonds is 0 for 4 in annual Hall of Fame balloting. He received 44 percent of the vote in January, a career high but far short of the 75 percent needed for induction.

Like Bonds, former home run king and admitted steroid user Mark McGwire also is back in baseball. He is the bench coach for the San Diego Padres.

Griffey declined to speculate whether being back in the game would help either one when it comes time to vote every year.

''I have no idea,'' Griffey said. ''My thing is I don't vote, so my opinion doesn't matter. It's up to the guys who do it for a living to decide what they want to do. I was honored by them voting for me. But it's up to these guys to determine if they get in or not. It's not up to me.''

As for the 500, Junior is going with Junior. Griffey and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have signed and exchanged items for charity over the years. Griffey even has a signed hood from one of Earnhardt's cars on display in his Orlando home.

''I've always been an Earnhardt family fan,'' Griffey said. ''I wore black batting gloves on Sunday when I played for the Reds.''

- Mark Long


11 a.m.

John Cena is driving the pace car for the Daytona 500.

But is the WWE star on the Road to WrestleMania?

Cena raised his right arm in an exaggerated motion roughly six weeks after undergoing shoulder surgery. The 15-time WWE champion refused to officially rule himself out of a WrestleMania match April 3 in Dallas.

''It would personally be unfortunate for me to miss WrestleMania,'' Cena said. ''But if I can't perform, it would be unfortunate to the people watching WrestleMania to see me try to suffer through something that isn't worthy of the event.''

Cena, whose catchphrase is ''You Can't See Me,'' joked that the drivers will, in fact, be able to see him in the Toyota Camry.

''I've installed a brilliant series of lights on top,'' Cena said. ''They will see me today, my friend. They will see me.''

Cena picked his friend Carl Edwards to win.

Cena will host the upcoming reality competition series ''American Grit'' starting April 14.

- Dan Gelston


10:30 a.m.

It's Daytona Day!

The 58th running of the Daytona 500 is Sunday, and although rookie Chase Elliott is on the pole, Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. is considered the man to beat in ''The Great American Race.''

Earnhardt and his car nicknamed ''Amelia'' have been nearly unstoppable at recent restrictor-plate races. Junior has four wins in six races with Amelia over the last 13 months.

Earnhardt says his team has been talked up quite a bit this week but he hopes people don't underestimate the competition. He says a lot of cars and drivers are capable of winning.

Driver Denny Hamlin believes only a handful of teams are capable of winning Sunday. Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards are among Earnhardt's toughest competition. Team Penske drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano also are expected to contend.

- Mark Long