Brooklyn, Mich. – Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia and former Red Wings forward Darren McCarty were like a couple of kids Sunday, excited to be interacting with Monster Energy NASCAR Cup drivers and team members at Michigan International Speedway.
Patricia was the grand marshal of the FireKeepers Casino 400 and McCarty was honorary pace car driver.
“I am so appreciative to be here and want to thank everyone involved for having myself and my family out to the race today,” Patricia said before the race, which was scheduled for a 2 p.m. start but was postponed by rain until Monday at 5 p.m. “We’re really excited, huge NASCAR fans. I think, obviously, just fell in love with many aspects of it.
“With my engineering background, a lot of the aerodynamics and the horsepower and all the engineering stuff that goes in behind the car I just find fascinating.
“The other part of it that is so amazing to me is race day – we were just a couple of inches away from the cars and meeting the drivers. In my world on game day you’re not getting close to any of the players or coaches. I just think the access is amazing where NASCAR opened up the doors to allow their fans to have that kind of up-close contact on race day.”
McCarty was a part of the famed Grind Line with Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby and scored a big goal in Game 4 of the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals to help the Red Wings sweep Philadelphia to end a 42-year drought.
McCarty showed his sense of humor, as usual, saying: “I’m not like Matt, no engineering degree, I know where the gas tank is and that’s about it.”
McCarty added, about the race day experience: “It blows me away that you can go talk to the drivers and crew, as they are getting ready for a big race.”
Patricia was looking forward to meeting Joe Gibbs, who guided the Washington Redskins to three Super Bowl championships and is owner of Joe Gibbs Racing. JGR drivers Kyle Busch (four), Martin Truex Jr. (three) and Denny Hamlin (two) have combined to win nine of the first 14 races, including Hamlin’s Daytona 500 victory.
“I have not seen Joe Gibbs yet today but I’m looking forward to running into him and having a great conversation with him,” Patricia said. “He’s an unbelievable guy, and someone that’s been able to have the most success in two different sports like that is pretty amazing.”
McCarty said his favorite drivers are Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch.
“People ask me, ‘How do you like Kyle Busch?’ and I say, ‘Dude, that kid is a wheel man, from trucks to cars and whatever else, and he’s a winner,’” McCarty said. “And Brad Keselowski being from Michigan, I’ve followed him and met him. He’s just everything you want in somebody, family man, winner, professional.
“In this sport you can’t hate a guy. In football you can hate guys, hockey you can hate guys, but you can’t hate guys in this sport.”
Patricia caught up with Stewart-Haas Racing driver Aric Almirola, who visited Lions practice last month.
“He’s just a great guy, great family, and I’m just really appreciative of him doing that for us (visiting practice),” Patricia said. “Like I said, it’s so interesting, it’s race day and you can come up to the drivers and ask them how they are doing. I just can’t get over the fact that they’re about ready to jump in the car and race.”