This is an article from the Aug. 16, 2010 issue
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The man otherwise known as Junior talks hoops and a little racin'—from the day he traded paint with Shaq to his sympathy for LeBron.
Dan Patrick:You raced Shaq on his show, Shaq Vs.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: It was pretty interesting. The first question you get is, How do they fit him in the car? That's the first thing I thought of too. They made a car where the roof popped open, and he climbed on top of it and jumped down in. Actually, it worked out pretty good. But when I was on pit road, I looked over to his car, and I could see his knees over his door top. I don't know how comfortable he was.
DP:Could you beat Shaq at free throw shooting?
DE: I have a little half-court in the shop, and I did challenge him to a free throw competition. We were tied three apiece, [but] he eventually prevailed.
DP:When LeBron James left the Cavaliers, I had to think about you leaving Dale Earnhardt Incorporated in 2007. Did people start saying, O.K., now you've got to start winning championships? Did you get negative feedback?
DE: We heard a little about that. Not like LeBron heard. And then, yeah, there was a lot of pressure: He isn't going to have any excuses. But that's the reason you do it. You want to be in the best position. If you get it done, you get it done. If you don't, you don't. But you put yourself there, and that's what you're supposed to do in life. I felt like at the time that I was the guy saying, I want the ball.
DP:How long after signing did you think you were going to win your first Sprint Cup title?
DE: I've been racing a long time, and I knew how tough it was to win [the championship]. I didn't think, Oh, it's right around the corner. I thought that surely by now we'd be challenging and more competitive. But I didn't think, This is going to flip a switch, and we're going to be unstoppable.
DP:How close are you now?
DE: We're not close. We're having a better year than we did last year. Last year was a disaster. The funny thing is—and I don't know if it's like this in all sports—when you're like, 'All right, we're missing some things,' you can't see these things. They're not tangible, obvious adjustments you know you need to make. You just keep working hard and working hard and showing up each weekend, and hopefully it starts working.
DP:What keeps you up at night—finishing second by a nose or finishing last?
DE: Finishing last keeps me up at night. [At Indy on July 25th] we had a pretty tough deal [finishing 27th], and it [was] Wednesday before I got over it. When you're in the middle of it and consume yourself with it, you can't shake it off.
DP:How do you get that frustration out? Do you put on boxing gloves?
DE: Shoot around on the half-court a little bit. Watch some TV. Whatever I can do to disconnect from it.
DP:Would you say Jimmie Johnson is NASCAR's Michael Jordan?
DE: I would compare him to Michael Jordan in his heyday, Tiger Woods when he was on top. He's definitely one of the best drivers that we've ever had. Fifty years down the road they'll mention his name right along with my father's and Richard Petty's and David Pearson's.
• Duck's Tale
Oregon football coach Chip Kelly doesn't believe that former quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, whom he dismissed from the team in June after he twice ran afoul of the law, is a bad kid—just someone who made bad decisions. Now that Masoli has landed at Ole Miss, I asked Kelly whether he had tried to keep him in Eugene. "No," he said. "We have standards here at school and it was plain and simple, straightforward. People have asked me, 'Was it a hard decision?' No, it wasn't."
• Name Game
After 38-year-old Shaquille O'Neal, a.k.a. the Diesel, signed with the Celtics last week, he asked his fans to suggest a new Boston-centric nickname. Here then are five choices for the well-traveled low-post legend, who once dubbed himself Big Aristotle.
1. The Old Man and the C's
2. The Big Shamroq
3. The Big Shleprechaun
4. Shaq Laddy
5. Saint Shaqtrick
• Line of the week
Angels manager Mike Scioscia, whose team had won five of 17 games through Sunday to fall to third in the AL West:
"If we play at the level we have the last three weeks, I think there are some Triple A teams that are going to catch us."
Now Hear This
Listen to the podcasts at danpatrick.com/interviews
1. Chris Bosh dishes on adjusting to life in Miami.
2. Buck Showalter discusses his hot start with the Orioles.
THE FINE PRINT: On next week's episode of Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the New York Jets, Rex Ryan's lap band gets on a chair and sings its college fight song.