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Julian Edelman gains new respect for drivers

Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman got behind the wheel of the pace car Sunday.

Barry Chin/Globe/Staff

Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman got behind the wheel of the pace car Sunday.

LOUDON, N.H. — Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman came to Loudon Sunday a self-proclaimed “casual fan” of NASCAR.

But, after serving as the pace car driver for Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 301 Sprint Cup race, Edelman departed The Magic Mile with a newfound respect and appreciation for the sport and the drivers who compete in NASCAR’s premier touring series, even saying they deserved to be considered athletes.

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“After coming here today and seeing this and the excitement and energy of the crowd and the people, it’s pretty insane,” Edelman said. “It was a fun experience, but I’ll definitely be watching a lot more now, because I’m vested.”

Before the race, Edelman took a crash course on the finer points of driving the pace car, a Toyota Camry.

His instructors had but three rules for Edelman: “Keep it at 47 [miles per hour], off the walls, and in the middle [of the track],” the Patriots wideout said. “When I was out there, trying out the car, they let me open it up and I was able to get up to 90-100 miles per hour. I pretty much told myself that these dudes are certifiably crazy to be going that fast on that little ring – they’re studs.’’

Despite the protestations to the contrary of former NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb, Edelman was asked if he considered drivers to be athletes?

“They’re, for sure, athletes,” said Edelman, who was introduced at the drivers’ meeting along with Pats offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. “It’s an endurance thing and they’re sitting in the car for three hours, going 200 miles per hour, you’ve got to be focused.”

Michael Vega can be reached at michael.vega@globe.com.
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