Daytona rivals Super Bowl’s excitement

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Racing’s Super Bowl on Monday packed more punch in a few laps than the whole Den-ver Broncos-Carolina Panthers fizzer a couple weeks ago.

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Lead changes, daring moves and hard hits — the 58th Daytona 500 at Daytona Interna-tional Speedway had it all.

Not to mention the closest finish in race history — 100th of a second — when Denny Hamlin in the No. 11 Toyota edged Martin Truex Jr. in the No. 78 Toyota to the stripe by inches.

When Hamlin, who drives for former Super Bowl-winning coach Joe Gibbs, took the checkered flag, his crew celebrated wildly, and drivers, crew chiefs and owners turned up at the postrace news conference, as mandated by NASCAR.

And were willing to talk.

“We don’t play. We race,” Hamlin said.

Those words from a commercial paid by NASCAR shown early in Monday’s season-opening Sprint Cup event summed it up.

“The Great American Race” isn’t a game but a life-and-death drama played out at 200 miles per hours (320 kilometers per hour).

Drivers don’t give an inch, as Hamlin showed Truex as he side-drafted him to the finish line, but after the race, they’ll drink a beer in the motor-home compound together.

Before the 500 began, former Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh walked the pits, a guest at stock car racing’s showcase day.

Suh, now a Miami Dolphin, likes a fast car, but not so much in a field of 40, running bumper-to-bumper, door-to-door.

Wrestler-turned-actor John Cena also was spotted around the cars. He obviously respects tough and skillful competitors.

With Gerard Butler, who stars in the soon-to-be-released movie “London Has Fallen,” acting as Grand Marshal and baseball Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. waving the flag on the field at the start of the race, the Daytona 500 had star power on and off the track.

When Dale Earnhardt Jr. crashed with under 30 laps remaining, his No. 88 slamming head-on into the inside wall, some of the glamour went out of the 500, but not for long.

Earnhardt is prince of modern-day drivers at Daytona, and Junior Nation fans wanted a third 500 victory for the son of The Intimidator.

But Matt Kenseth, Truex Jr., Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch kept the action sharp and the TV compelling, particularly as Danica Patrick caught air in her Chevy as she went on a wild ride across the grass after Greg Biffle and his Ford smacked her from be-hind.

Sunday’s 500 was pack racing, no prisoners taken.

It was high entertainment and high drama, won by a whisker.

An instant classic.

TNS

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