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MIS Notebook: MSU football coach was grand marshal

06/15/2015, 12:00am EDT
By By RACHEL LENZI and NICHOLAS PIOTROWICZ BLADE STAFF WRITERS

BROOKLYN, Mich. — Mark Dantonio is making the offseason rounds.

Within the last week, Michigan State’s football coach was in Grand Rapids, Mich., for team-building exercises at area hospitals, then hosted MSU’s football camps in East Lansing, Mich., before he joined several other Big Ten Conference football coaches Friday at the Sound Mind Sound Body football camp in Macomb, Mich.

He arrived Sunday morning at Michigan International Speedway, in preparation to serve as the grand marshal of Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400, and took an early-morning pace car ride on the 2-mile superspeedway before he gave the call for drivers to start their engines in the afternoon.

“I think we hit 125 [miles an hour] or so,” Dantonio said. “It was good. We were right up on the wall. If I’d have stuck my hand out there, I would have dragged the wall.”

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Dantonio will enter the 2015 football season as part of a nucleus of high-profile coaches in the Big Ten East, with the arrival of Jim Harbaugh at Michigan, with Urban Meyer having won a national title at Ohio State, and with James Franklin continuing to revamp Penn State.

“What we’re all trying to do is make college football better and trying to impact young people,” Dantonio said. “It’s a great game. It’s a competitive game. Everybody is trying to win and tries to move forward. But at the end of the day, I think we’re all good friends, too. We all experience the same pressures and the same things. There’s a lot of funny stories that go into this, as well.”

As the third-longest-tenured coach in the Big Ten (behind Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz and Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald), Dantonio is a champion for his league.

“The Big Ten conference has always been one of the greatest football conferences and athletic conferences in the country,” Dantonio said. “There’s a lot of parity.”

Dantonio said he didn’t take off his shirt at the recent Spartans football camp, unlike Harbaugh, his counterpart at Michigan. Harbaugh caused a viral stir when he bared it all to take part in a shirt-versus-skins game at a satellite camp in Prattville, Ala.

“Coach Harbaugh’s a great coach, he’s great with the players, and he’s having a great time,” Dantonio said.

Yet Dantonio took some mock exception to the photos that circulated of him, Meyer and Harbaugh speaking at a press conference last week at the Sound Mind Sound Body camp.

“I think they took some bad pictures there, and I want to go on record for saying that,” Dantonio said, with a wry smile. “They waited until everyone was staring off in the distance and snapped as many as they could, just listening to other people.”

RACE TITLE RIGHTS: Bill Emerson, the CEO of Quicken Loans, said Sunday that he was unaware of the length of the contract his company had to hold the naming rights for the June Sprint Cup race at MIS.

“I don’t know what the length of the term is, and we won’t talk about [financial numbers]. But it’s been a fantastic partnership,” Emerson said. “As far as I know, we’re continuing into the future with this relationship.”

Quicken Loans originally entered a one-year deal in the spring of 2012 to hold the naming rights of the June race at MIS, with an option to extend the agreement. Quicken Loans is also the title sponsor for the second-to-last Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway.

MIS and Michigan state tourism and government officials announced in October of 2014 that the August Sprint Cup race at MIS will continue to be named the Pure Michigan 400.

’15 FIRST: For the first time this season, Danica Patrick led a race, albeit briefly. Patrick took the lead Sunday near the midway point, on the 95th lap, and held it for two laps.

Those two trips around MIS were there first two laps she led in any race in 2015. Sunday was her 15th Sprint Cup start of the year.

KNIGHT DISPLAY: St. Francis de Sales president Father Geoff Rose delivered the pre-race prayer Sunday at MIS. Before the national anthem, Fr. Rose addressed the crowd from the infield.

MIDDLE FINISH: Defiance native Sam Hornish, Jr., finished Sunday in 26th place, which gave him 18 points for the 15th race of the season.

Hornish currently has 273 points and sits in 25th place, 127 points outside the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

IRISH INDIFFERENCE: With Dantonio seated to his right, Ryan Newman, a South Bend, Ind., native, was asked if he roots for the University of Notre Dame’s football team. To Dantonio's approval, Newman gave an emphatic no.

“I never was, never will be, and don't ever want to think about it,” Newman said of being a Notre Dame fan.

Newman went to school at Purdue, but said he doesn't take sides in college football.

“I'm just a driver,” he said.

Contact Rachel Lenzi at: rlenzi@theblade.com, 419-724-6510, or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.

Contact Nicholas Piotrowicz at: npiotrowicz@theblade.com, 724-6110, or on Twitter @NickPiotrowicz

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