Whether you are talking NASCAR or the NBA, Brad Daugherty is a good listen. The former NBA star, turned ESPN analyst is passionate about both sports. As ESPN kicks off its coverage of The Chase this weekend with the Brickyard 400, we caught up with Daugherty for his thoughts on the season so far.
Daugherty was an all-America selection at North Carolina and a five-time NBA all-Star with the Cavaliers. He also has been a team-owner in NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series. He has been an ESPN racing analyst since 2007.
Trading Paint: Dale Earnhardt Jr. is one of the most popular drivers in the sport, what is going right for him this season?
Brad Daugherty: I've watched that team, I really think the positive attitude that Steve Letarte brings to that race team is starting to rub off on a lot of those guys, including Dale Jr. Dale Jr. is talented, he works hard. When you have a positive energy and are getting positive results your confidence grows exponentially. That attitude has driven that confidence through the roof. I think he can hold on into the Chase and he can be very competitive running for a championship.
TP: And, of course, Jimmie Johnson is always out there.
BD: I think the reality is, yes, Jimmie is at the top of our sport. He and Tony Stewart are the two guys I always think about when you talk about the top drivers of our sport. Jimmie has been flying under the radar, he's not been the story every week. They haven't been overwhelming but this thing goes in cycles.
TP: Is there someone out there who can surprise us in The Chase?
BD: Clint Bowyer. He is a wheel man. He will drive the wheels off that race car. Even though he's 9th in points, people don t pay a lot of attention to him, he could be a huge player in the Chase. He is one of the most talented divers in all of racing.
TP: How do you feel Danica Patrick is doing?
BD: When this year started, I made the comment that I'm not listening to any of the hype. A great year to me is to see her progress to the top 15 in the Nationwide Series. So I am sticking by that. I expected her to be good but I think a top 10 finish for her would be outstanding. She's getting better every week.
TP: What does the history of the Brickyard mean to the drivers?
BD: Indy is hallowed ground. When you have an opportunity to win at Indy, I don't care if you are racing bicycles, it's a big deal. That track is one of the crown jewels. Growing up in the U.S. it's all you ever heard about. Winning the Daytona 500 is huge and it's the pinnacle of our sport, but boy it's close. Winning a race at Indy is like winning at Augusta.
TP: Who is the favorite this weekend?
BD: I'd like to say my guy Bobby Labonte is the favorite. To me, Tony Stewart is just kind of lurking there. If I had to put all my eggs in a basket, I would put them in there with Tony Stewart. I think that you know Jimmie Johnson is going to be in the mix. You have to watch Kasey Kahne.
TP: What difficulties does this track pose for NASCAR drivers?
BD: It's 2.5 miles and it's flat. Our cars are heavy, 3,400 pounds compared to 1,800 pounds for an Indy car. We don't have the down force. In Indy, they run around there wide open. You get to turn one and it's flat. That's why we have huge banked tracks in NASCAR. It catches the car. In the Nationwide, some of these young drivers have never been on that race track. It's so top heavy it feels like it's going to role over when you get to the corner. It's a totally different feel.
TP: Okay. A crossover to basketball. How will the Dream Team do?
BD: I think they will win the Gold. I wish they had one plodding type of big guy that will clean up the glass. But the teams they will play are similar to them.
TP: Compare this Dream Team, to the original Dream Team.
BD: You can't. The '92 Dream Team beats this team by 20. These guys are great but the way the game was played back then, it's different. Kobe is a throwback guy. The athletes are better than ever. But the fundamentals they had are unbelievable. The way the game was played was unbelievable. If they played five times, the '92 team would win three.