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Kentucky coach Calipari to drive pace car

SPARTA, Ky. (AP) - The only thing threatening to keep Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari from driving the (fast) lane before Saturday night's NASCAR race was rain.

Initially slated to ride shotgun as the honorary pace car driver for the 400-mile Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway, Calipari was asked to drive the Ford Fusion leading the 43-car field to the green flag.

Calipari agreed and received crash-course instruction from Cup driver Kurt Busch, whose 90-mph splits in the rain around the 1.5-mile oval had the coach ``white-knuckled'' and holding on tightly on the passenger side. Fortunately for Calipari, he only has to drive a more comfortable 45 mph ahead of the field.

The question was whether Calipari's dream would be stopped by showers that threatened to delay the scheduled start.

``I just want the rain to clear so I can get out there and do a couple of laps,'' said Calipari, expressing confidence that it would.

Besides instruction from the 2004 Cup champion, Calipari got a specially-made racing jacket embroidered with the terms ``eight-time'' - referring to Kentucky's eight national championships - and his trademark ``Refuse to Lose'' slogan. Drivers also signed the jacket, which will be auctioned for charity.

``I did it like a driver would have,'' he said.

Calipari seemed happier at the prospect of being an active participant in NASCAR, a sport Calipari said he has followed since his days at the University of Massachusetts. The process involved going on the thrill ride of his life.

``When I went 45 (mph), I wasn't nervous,'' Calipari said, ``but when he (Busch) was going 90 and 100 (mph) in that rain, all these grooves are great, I'm thinking, `Oh, my gosh.'

``I had one arm on the mirror grabbing it, and the other hand was on the window. He was flying, for me. These guys are used to it, but it was fast. And it was raining.''

Copyright 2018 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.
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