Dantonio gets a taste of Sprint Cup speed

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Detroit — Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio was downtown Thursday afternoon, taking advantage of an opportunity to see what it's like to compete in a racing simulator to promote next week's running of the Quicken Loans 400 NASCAR race at Michigan International Speedway.

Dantonio jumped in an iRacing motion simulator, which gives individuals a realistic look at what it feels like to run laps in a Sprint Cup car on MIS' two-mile oval which is known as NASCAR's fastest track.

Dantonio was on hand, along with former Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski, a Rochester Hills native, MIS president Roger Curtis and Quicken Loans president and chief marketing officer Jay Farmer.

"Interesting," Dantonio said after getting out of the simulator in the lobby of the First National Building after crashing between Turns 1 and 2 on the MIS course.

As Dantonio walked away, Keselowski blurted out: "That's where a guy hit in Turn 2 last year, had a concussion and was air-lifted out to the hospital."

Dantonio enjoyed taking a few hours away from the busy schedule of an elite college football coach. Now, he'll try to get Keselowski, a big Michigan fan, to an MSU practice or even a game this season.

"That was different, I've never done that before," Dantonio said of the simulator experience. "That's the first time I've been on one, other than video game, stuff like that."

So, how fast have you driven your own car?

"Maybe 100 once, way out in the sticks," Dantonio said.

Dantonio will attend the Quicken Loans 400 June 14 and serve as the event's grand marshal, giving the drivers the command to "Start your engines."

"I'm real excited about it," Dantonio said. "I have a lot of friends who are big NASCAR people so they're excited, too. I watch a little bit (NASCAR), not much, though, because I'm pretty busy."

MSU's players have definitely paid close attention to Dantonio's commands in recent years, a reason the Spartans are now one of the premier college football programs in the country.

The Spartans are 53-14 over the past five years, including 24-3 the last two with a Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl win over Stanford in 2013 and an 11-2 record and Cotton Bowl win over Baylor last season.

And, there's no reason to think things will change this fall. The Spartans have senior quarterback Connor Cook back with an outstanding offensive line in front of him, including potential first-team All-American center Jack Allen and tackle Jack Conklin.

When Cook took over as starter a few years ago Dantonio said he could be the type of quarterback who could run for 100 yards per game. He is extremely mobile, taking just 11 sacks last year while throwing for 24 TDs against just eight interceptions.

Cook is expected to be the top quarterback taken in the 2016 NFL Draft according to NFLDraftScout.com.

"I think Connor's got a very, very high ceiling," Dantonio said. "He's got a lot of ability, a lot of confidence right now. He has a lot of experience, a lot of championship-type moments, a lot of success and I think he's poised to have a great senior year."

Dantonio also loves his offensive line.

"It all starts up front and if you can control the line of scrimmage on the offensive side of the ball, the time of possession usually goes with you and the ability to run the football usually goes with you and those things are very valuable in winning a football game so that's where it starts and those guys (Allen, Conklin) are very good players."