NASCAR Daytona 500: a key campaign stop for GOP candidates

Florida’s Daytona International Speedway is nowhere near Michigan, where a critical Republican primary is scheduled for Tuesday, but GOP presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum each made sure they were a presence at the racetrack today, the Associated Press reported.

Romney visited the track for a few hours before the scheduled start of the race, then flew back to Michigan to attend a campaign event later in the day, according to the AP. He spoke at the pre-race drivers’ meeting and met fans, drivers and team owners.

Santorum was there in spirit, sponsoring Front Row Motorsports' No. 26 Ford Fusion, driven by Tony Raines, Fox News reported.

"I like how Tony Raines turned some heads last weekend with his qualifying run, and we'd like to keep turning heads too. I think we're both looking for a win in the end," Santorum said, according to Fox News.

Front Row Motorsports’ owner Bob Jenkins said it's a good way to get Santorum's message out, with millions of viewers tuning into the race, Fox News reported. "It's a pretty tight battle for the Republican nomination right now, and the former senator is right in the thick of it. We hope we're in the thick of it come Sunday out on the racetrack, too," Jenkins said.

Santorum even had some advice for Raines inspired by his own campaign strategy, Fox News reported. “I recommended he stay back in the pack, you know, hang back there until the right time, and then bolt to the front when it really counts,” Santorum said.

Asked if he was hoping for a poor showing from the No. 26 car, Romney said, “I hope all the cars have a good race.”

More from GlobalPost: Michelle Obama booed at NASCAR (VIDEO)

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