Daytona 500 a speedway for politics

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 25: Tony Raines, driver of the #26 Front Row Motorsports Ford, sponsored by Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, stands next to his car in the garage during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 25, 2012 in Daytona Beach, Florida. Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 25:
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Updated 1:55 p.m. ET

Ahead of Tuesday's primary in Michigan, the birthplace of the American auto industry, leading Republican presidential candidates will have a strong presence at the largest motorsports event of the year. Rick Santorum's logo will be speeding around the track and the airspace above it will be a visual protest of Mitt Romney.

Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum is sponsoring the #26 Front Row Motorsports Ford car at NASCAR's Daytona 500. Santorum's logo covers the hood and his "Made in America" logo is painted on the Ford Fusion driven by Tony Raines.

In an interview with USA Today, Raines said the presidential candidate and his campaign reached out and suggested the idea. "I think it's cool they take notice of us and have a presence in the race. Our fans are the backbone of America. I enjoyed talking to him. It was cool he wanted to touch base."

The race - also known as the "Great American Race," held at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida - is prime advertisement placement for Santorum as it's a sustained two-hour long TV draw with an average viewership of 15 million people.

"NASCAR and the Daytona 500 are about as American as you can get - and it's great to have my campaign represented by one of these incredible machines," Santorum said.

Santorum added: "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 will not be in attendance and instead campaigning in Michigan, but his closest challenger, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, is expected to be there, gaining some publicity as well. The United Auto Workers union is flying a banner attached to an airplane for an hour before the race about his opposition to the auto bailout.

According to the Detroit News, the banner will read "Mitt Romney: Let Detroit Go Bankrupt," which is an op-ed Romney wrote in 2008 in the New York Times arguing against government financial intervention in the flailing American auto companies.

  • Leigh Ann Caldwell On Twitter»

    Leigh Ann Caldwell is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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