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DAYTONA BEACH (CBSMiami/AP) – The 54 annual Daytona 500 drew more than drivers, their crews and fans this year.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney made a stop at the Daytona International Speedway on Sunday where he spoke briefly at the pre-race drivers’ meeting. He then spent time walking around the garage and pit areas, shaking hands and taking photographs with fans.
Asked if he would be rooting for something bad to happen to the No. 26 car being sponsored by Republican rival Rick Santorum’s campaign, Romney laughed, saying, “I hope all the cars have a good race.”
“I just hope they all have a good race,” Romney said.
Romney was introduced at the drivers’ meeting and received hearty applause from drivers, team members and other VIPs.
“This combines a couple of things I like best, cars and sports,” Romney told the group. “I appreciate the spirit of the men and women that are driving today. This is a chance to really look at some of the determination and great qualities of the human spirit. This is quintessentially American. I love what you’re doing, happy to be here today, wish you all the very best and God bless this great nation of ours.”
He delivered similar remarks to the fans, briefly speaking on a stage in the infield during driver introductions.
Fans yelled messages of support as Romney roamed around the infield, although at least one shouted “Santorum!”
Asked if taking time to appear at Daytona was an indication of his level of confidence going into Tuesday’s primary in Michigan, Romney said it wasn’t.
“No, it’s a sign of a guy who loves cars,” Romney said. “And this has always been a place where
American cars have shined. And a long history from Daytona being connected with Detroit, with Detroit cars, and with the spirit of America.”
Romney was at Daytona last year and said he also has been to the track in New Hampshire. Does he follow the sport?
“Not as closely as some of the most ardent fans,” he said. “But I have some friends who are NASCAR team owners.”
Romney said he has visited team owner Richard Childress’ facilities and came away impressed by the technology.
“I go back to the 1960s, back then when you had guys like Bobby Allison driving, they were driving stock cars,” Romney said. “Maybe they’d taken out the passenger seat and the back seat so they can put in a restraint system and a fire extinguisher. But now these cars really are built from the group up entirely by the teams themselves.”
(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)