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Julian Edelman, J.J. Watt honored at Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman could feel the buzz at the Daytona 500.

Edelman, sporting neatly trimmed facial hair, served as honorary starter and was set to wave the green flag for Sunday's race. The New England Patriots star receiver called NASCAR drivers "absolutely insane."

"It's a respect level for these guys, who are clearly adrenaline junkies," Edelman said. "Football players, we're missing screws. These dudes certainly are, too."

Edelman had his bushy beard clipped on a recent taping of "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," with the trimmings used to raise money for the Boys & Girls Club of Boston.

Edelman doesn't know if he'll grow the beard again to its rugged length again next season. But he grew it by taking the advice of Patriots coach Bill Belichick to heart.

"He says put everything in the draw and worry about it after football season," Edelman said. "So I put my razor in the draw and I worried about it after football season."

Edelman earned Super Bowl MVP honors after catching 10 passes for 141 yards while helping lift the Patriots to a 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams.

J.J. Watt used an offseason film session to prepare for the Daytona 500.

The Houston Texans star and Daytona 500 grand marshal watched video of the last decade of celebrities who kicked off the race with the most famous phrase in motorsports. Watt said Dale Earnhardt Jr. had "tons of energy" during last year's command.

"I practiced in front of my girlfriend at home last night," Watt said. "She gave me the thumbs up, so we're good to go guys."

Watt was raised in Wisconsin and said a seventh-grade teacher turned him onto the sport, specifically former driver Dick Trickle. Watt said his teacher would let the class know Trickle's results each week. Watt said he liked both Earnhardts and Jeff Gordon, and could feel the excitement in Daytona.

"This track is huge. It's massive," Watt said.

Watt is a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and well known for his charity work with the Justin J. Watt Foundation, which provides after-school opportunities for children. Following Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Watt set a goal to raise $200,000 for recovery efforts in Houston. He ended up raising more than $41 million, helping earn him the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award.

"I'm in a position where I get to play a game for a living and be compensated very well to do it," Watt said. "We have a chance to use that platform to give back and do good with it."

Copyright 2019 by The Associated Press

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