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

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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.

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Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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