Super Bowl Champ to Pace NASCAR Field July 19
Gillette Stadium and Fenway Park fit inside New Hampshire Motor Speedway's 1.058-mile oval. On July 19, Super Bowl champion Rob Ninkovich and two-time American League All-Star Rico Petrocelli will celebrate the speedway's 25th Anniversary by serving honorary roles during pre-race festivities for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series New Hampshire 301.
Following the "Star Spangled Banner", Ninkovich, who recorded three tackles, including a sack in the New England Patriots' 28-24 Super Bowl win in February, will lead the field to the green flag as the Official Pace Car Driver. Petrocelli, a former star infielder for the Red Sox, who is one of only two Major League shortstops to ever hit two home runs in one World Series game, will deliver the invocation before the national anthem.
Both New England favorites will be recognized at the drivers' meeting and participate in driver introductions.
"Julian was talking in the locker room about how much fun he had driving the pace car last year and he went on to have a career season," said Ninkovich, noting teammate Julian Edelman, who drove the pace car last July. Former Boston Bruins defenseman Brad Park served in this role last September.
"I thought I'd join in the fun this year," continued Ninkovich. "I think it's going to be awesome to be at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, in front of all those people, and be a part of the race."
Before Ninkovich leads the field of 43 drivers around the Magic Mile in a Toyota Camry, he will participate in a mandatory pace car training session with NASCAR officials.
Ninkovich, who has more opponent fumble recoveries (13) than any other NFL player over the last five seasons, has spent the last six seasons as a defensive end and linebacker with the Patriots. Ninkovich was a fifth-round draft pick (135th overall) for the New Orleans Saints in 2006. He played just eight games over four seasons for the Saints and Miami Dolphins before signing with the Patriots in 2009. Since joining New England, Ninkovich has missed just one game, racking up 340 tackles, including 35.5 sacks.
Petrocelli, who was inducted into the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame in 1997, was signed as an amateur free agent in 1961 by Boston, where he'd go on to play for 13 seasons from 1963-1976. Petrocelli finished his career with a .251 batting average, 201 home runs, 773 RBI and was named to the American League All-Star Team twice, in 1967 and '69.
"It is a tremendous honor to deliver the invocation prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July," said Petrocelli, who ran chapel services in the late 1970's as a manager in the minor leagues with both the Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox. "New England is a baseball region, no doubt - this is Red Sox country, after all. But it's developed into a very knowledgeable racing region, too. I can't wait to be a part of the show."
Petrocelli told speedway officials that he's always had a love affair with motorsports and that he used to drag race during the baseball offseason, something that quickly ended once Red Sox officials got wind of it.
"It filled my need for speed," said Petrocelli.
Petrocelli is the first sports player to do the invocation for a NASCAR race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
The New Hampshire 301 will take place at 1:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 19 with coverage on NBC Sports Network and PRN radio.