Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Great NASCAR driver, but too short, too slow for NBA


How many of us have bragged (okay, lied) to anyone who would listen, “If I only was a few inches taller, I could have made it in the NBA”

NASCAR superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr., can relate to that kind of statement.

But even if the lanky North Carolina native would have grown a few more inches, he admittedly still didn’t have the talent based upon some tweets he pumped out Thursday and further elaborated on during his weekly media session on Friday.

“I have interest, but that is where it stops,” Earnhardt said Friday when comparing his interest vs. skill level in the roundball game.

On Twitter’s “Throwback Thursday,” Earnhardt tweeted a photo of him with the basketball team during his days on the junior varsity team at Oak Ridge (N.C.) Military School (he’s at the far left, No. 13).

In a way, Earnhardt was the Rudy of his day back in military school. He was too short and rarely got to play.

“I sat on the bench a lot being the smallest guy,” Earnhardt recalled. “I didn’t have any skill.”

In fact, he took just one shot – ONE SHOT!!! – during his entire “career” at the school.

“I threw it up with my eyes closed,” he laughed. “The only way I knew it went in is because (sister) Kelley and everybody that was there, the 10 or 12 people that were there were screaming when it went in. So I knew it went in, but I never saw it.”

Sure, it may have only been one shot, but Earnhardt retired from his hoops career with a perfect 1.000 field goal percentage.

Not even LeBron James, Michael Jordan or Shaquille O’Neal can brag about that.

Unlike many who think they can play, Junior actually had other reasons for being on the school’s hoops team.

“I only played because you got to leave campus for the road games,” he said. “Being able to leave even for a day in military school was an amazing vacation, just to be able to leave for a few hours, because … after the game you would get pizza or whatever.

“You just didn’t have those kinds of luxuries being on campus so that was pretty neat. I had fun. My sister found that picture so I thought it would be fun to share. We played basketball at home and we have a small little group of guys that get together and play, but I’m not skillful at all. It’s fun. It’s a good way to get some energy and exercise.”

Earnhardt remains a big college basketball fan – since his beloved North Carolina Tar Heels got eliminated, he’s pulling for Florida – as well as of the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats.

And he’ll likely be out watching when the Harlem Globetrotters put on an exhibition game before Sunday’s Duck Commander 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

You know what? I just had a great idea. Given that TMS president Eddie Gossage is one of the greatest promoters in the sport, maybe he should see if Junior could play for a couple of minutes with the ‘Trotters.

It’s a win-win situation: If he makes a basket, the crowd goes wild. If he doesn’t, he still has a great basketball team around him that makes him look good.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.