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Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney signs autographs for fans as he visits Daytona International Speedway before the NASCAR Daytona 500 Sprint Cup series auto race in Daytona Beach, Fla., Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012. (Rainier Ehrhardt/AP/Rainier Ehrhardt/AP)
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney signs autographs for fans as he visits Daytona International Speedway before the NASCAR Daytona 500 Sprint Cup series auto race in Daytona Beach, Fla., Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012. (Rainier Ehrhardt/AP/Rainier Ehrhardt/AP)

Romney, Santorum try to tap American patriotism with car talk Add to ...

Mitt Romney and NASCAR go together about as naturally as Barack Obama and square dancing. But in Republican circles, nothing says ‘good old boy’ like stock car racing.

So, there was Mr. Romney, whose wife drives “a couple of Cadillacs,” working the crowd at the Daytona 500 on Sunday. Awkward does not begin to describe the moment.

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Even when the multi-millionaire former Bain Capital chief makes an effort to connect with the Republican grassroots, he reminds them just how different he is.

“I have some great friends who are NASCAR team owners,” Mr. Romney uttered in another memorably out-of-touch comment on the campaign trail.

The appearance in advance of the race, which was postponed until Monday because of inclement weather, was not a total washout, however.

Mr. Romney grew up in Detroit. His father ran American Motors before becoming a three-term governor. Cars are truly in his blood, as hard as that seems to believe.

“It’s a sign of a guy who loves cars,” Mr. Romney said of his detour to Daytona on the eve of Tuesday’s GOP primary in Michigan. “And this has always been a place where American cars have shined. And [there is]a long history [of]Daytona being connected with Detroit, with Detroit cars, and with the spirit of America.”

Whether that wins him any votes on Tuesday remains to be seen. His primary competitor in the Michigan race, ex-Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, is sponsoring his very own car at Daytona – a Ford Fusion driven by Tony Raines.

“NASCAR and the Daytona 500 are about as American as you can get,” Mr. Santorum said Monday on the Fox News morning show. “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.”

That’s right. The Daytona 500 is so much more than a car race. It’s downright patriotic.

“This is a chance to really look at some of the determination and great qualities of the human spirit. This is quintessentially American,” Mr. Romney quipped on Sunday.

While the patrician Mr. Romney cannot compete with Mr. Santorum’s blue collar appeal – the ex-senator plays up his family roots in coal mining – his own vehicles of choice are actually more politically correct than his rival’s.

“I drive a Mustang and a Chevy pick-up,” Mr. Romney said in a Friday speech in Detroit, before letting slip that his wife Ann prefers to wheel around in one of her Cadillacs.

Mr. Santorum, who campaign slogan is “Made in America,” drives an Audi.

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