published Monday, February 21st, 2011

Fans honor Earnhardt

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    Trevor Bayne, right, and Tony Stewart, left, lead the field on a restart in the closing laps of the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Sunday, Feb. 20, 2011. Bayne won the race. (AP Photo/Glenn Smith)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Even though the 10-year anniversary of Dale Earnhardt's death came two days earlier, there were plenty of people remembering The Intimidator at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday.

Two-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart wore a black, No. 3 baseball cap. So did most everyone at Richard Childress Racing.

NASCAR officials showed a highlight video of previous Daytona 500s during the pre-race drivers meeting, and the late Earnhardt was prominent in the piece.

Daytona officials had a huge No. 3 painted in the infield grass. On the third lap, Fox television broadcasters observed a moment of silence while fans saluted Earnhardt by holding up three fingers.

"I feel honored and once again undeserving to be here 10 years after that for the anniversary," said race winner Trevor Bayne, who was nine years old when Earnhardt died.

His memories of that day, though, are still clear.

"I was at my grandparents' house watching the race when the accident happened. We lived about five miles away from my grandparents. As soon as the race was over, I left my grandparents and went to our house. That's when the announcement was made.

"Our whole family, you know the impact it had on everybody, all teary eyed. I knew the significance Dale Earnhardt had on our sport, what an amazing man he was. It's crazy that we're sitting here 10 years later. It's gone by fast. I remember everything about that. It's crazy."

Ragan's remorse

David Ragan was leading the Daytona 500 and seemingly had as good a shot as anyone at winning the race. Then he made a critical mistake.

Ragan slid in front of Trevor Bayne too soon on a restart, got black flagged and penalized. It cost him a chance at his first Sprint Cup victory.

He knew it, too. Ragan slammed his steering wheel three times while on pit road and ended up 14th in the season opener.

"It'll take us a long time to forget this one," Ragan said. "The sooner we can get we can win one, the sooner we can forget it. ... I was a little bit too greedy."

Super fan

Still relishing the Green Bay Packers' Super Bowl victory, safety Nick Collins brought his family to the Daytona 500 as guests of driver Travis Kvapil, a Wisconsin native.

Collins said their trip to the track was a huge surprise for his son, who is a NASCAR fan.

And it wasn't Collins' first time at the track, either. As a student at nearby Bethune-Cookman, he worked on the cleanup crew one year.

"I did it one year, just trying to make some money," Collins said. "I was a college student at the time, trying to make ends meet, so I was out here cleaning up."

Collins returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown in the Packers' 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. He kept the ball and is planning to put it on display at his home -- but only after he makes an autograph request that might not go over so well.

"I'm going to try to get Big Ben to sign it for me," Collins said.

Star-studded infield

The Daytona 500 stuck with its southern roots for pre-race festivities, going with country-music stars Brad Paisley, Martina McBride and Dierks Bentley. Paisley performed an infield concert, and McBride sang the national anthem. Bentley also sang before the race.

"I think it goes hand-in-hand, NASCAR and country music, the core value system and the family-first-type atmosphere," Paisley said. "It really does a lot of good for our culture, for America, to have these things that are so ingrained in who we are entertainment wise. I just love everything about it."

Another singer was at Daytona, but only in a supporting role.

Black Eyed Peas vocalist Fergie was at the track with her husband, actor Josh Duhamel. Duhamel and British actress Rosie Huntington-Whiteley served as grand marshals for the race. They were promoting their upcoming movie, "Transformers: Dark of the Moon."

When NASCAR president Mike Helton introduced the stars during the pre-race drivers meeting, he thanked Duhamel for bringing his wife.

NASCAR later announced that McBride will return to Daytona in July to perform a pre-race concert. She also talked about how difficult it was for Christina Aguilera after she messed up the lyrics to the national anthem at the Super Bowl. They performed together at the Grammy Awards last weekend.

"You always want to do your best, and I'm sure that Christina definitely wanted to do her best," McBride said. It's a hard thing."

More:

Junior, Hendrick teams struggle

Knoxville's Bayne pulls Daytona 500 shocker

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