James Franco at the Daytona 500.

James Franco at the Daytona 500.

James Franco caused an uproar as Grand Marshall of the Daytona 500. He was given the honor of the race’s opening announcement. But instead of saying “Gentlemen, start your engines,” he improvised with “Drivers…and Danica…start your engines!” Big mistake.

The remark, referring to the only female driver Danica Patrick, drew howls on social networking sites after it was branded as sexist.

He also made it seem that Patrick was something less than a “driver,” when, in fact, she had the best qualifying time of the race and became the first women ever to earn the No 1. poll position for the grueling race.

When Patrick raced in the Indianapolis 500, the race was started with: “Lady and gentlemen, start your engines.”

“That command didn’t exactly dovetail with Danica Patrick’s long-stated worldview of being a driver/racer first and a woman second,” USA Today’s racing reporter Nate Ryan tweeted. Check out some of the other tweets below.

Franco, was in Daytona to promote his new movie “Oz, the Great and Powerful” and was obviously aware of Patrick’s special role in the race. “Danica had done something special here, so I might have to switch it up,” he said at a pre-race news conference.

Jimmie Johnson ultimately won the race, his second Daytona 500 victory. Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second.

Patrick finished eighth, proving once again that a poll start is no guarantee of victory. But in another first she became the only woman to lead the race. She held it twice for a total of five laps in the 200-lap race.

Patrick is only the third woman to compete in “The Great American Race” as the Daytona 500 is known. She is the first to capture the poll position in any NASCAR race. She qualified with a top speed of 196.434 mph.

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