49ers coach – and IndyCar team co-owner – Jim Harbaugh to drive Indy 500 pace car

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San Francisco 49ers head coach and Panther Racing co-owner Jim Harbaugh will drive the 2014 Chevy Corvette Stingray pace car and lead the field of 33 to the green flag at Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.

Harbaugh, who led the 49ers to last year’s NFC Championship and an appearance in Super Bowl XLVII, is a founding partner for Panther, the two-time IZOD IndyCar Series champions and a perennial threat at the Brickyard with four runner-up finishes in the last five “500s.”

“As a longtime racing fan and someone who has always followed the Indianapolis 500, the honor to drive the Pace Car comes as a tremendous thrill,” Harbaugh said in a release from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “Doing it in the all-new 2014 Corvette Stingray makes it even better. It’s an iconic car leading an iconic race.”

Harbaugh is a well-known figure in Indianapolis thanks to a memorable run in the mid-1990s as quarterback of the Colts. According to the team, he first met Panther managing partner John Barnes shortly after he signed with the Colts in 1994. When Panther started racing in 1997, Harbaugh joined in as a partner.

To this day, Panther has run the No. 4 as a nod to the jersey he wore for the Colts and for the majority of his playing career. The coach and the team maintain a close relationship; last year, Harbaugh hosted Barnes, Panther driver J.R. Hildebrand and soldiers from the California National Guard on a visit to the Niners’ practice facility, and at the IndyCar race in Sonoma, California, Hildebrand ran a 49ers-themed paint job on his No. 4 National Guard Chevrolet.

“It’s always great for us to see Jim when he comes back to Indy for the race, and I don’t know too many people who love the Indianapolis 500 more than Jim Harbaugh,” Barnes said in a Panther release. “We’re unbelievably proud of all the success that he’s had in his playing and coaching career, and driving the Chevy pace car this Sunday is just another well-deserved accomplishment that we all know he’ll enjoy.”

Watch Friday’s Indianapolis 500 Carb Day (11 a.m. ET) online and on your mobile device.

Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

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We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.