Dale Jr. goes one-on-one with Shaq, talks about title hopes

NASCAR'S most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. goes one-on-one with NBA great Shaquille O'Neal on the racetrack in tonight's season premiere of "Shaq Vs." The reality show takes O'Neal out of his comfort zone as he competes against athletes, entertainers and pop culture icons on their own turf.

The show was filmed at Concord Motorsports Park in June. Although the results have been kept secret, we've seen some teaser photos, including this one posted on Yahoo's "From the Marbles" blog, which shows Shaq visiting Earnhardt Jr.'s race shop, JR Motorsports.

One thing I'm curious about: How can the 7-foot-1, 325-pound Shaq fit into a racecar? Turns out they built a special car that opened from the roof simply to get the superstar in.

During a Tuesday morning interview on "The Dan Patrick Show," Dale Jr. said, "When I was on pit road and we were getting ready to pull off, I looked over to my right at his car into his window and I could see his knees over his doortop, so they were almost at the top of the steering wheel. So I don't know how comfortable he was, but he got in there with no problem."

The athletes compete against one another in a pair of races.
Junior said he was impressed at the effort Shaq made to learn as a driver.

"He put in the work, and I figured he would," Earnhardt Jr. said. "... The racecar was a different thing and that might throw him off a bit, and it was a little bit of a surprise to him. But he still put the work in and tried his hardest."

What we don't get to see on "Shaq Vs." is the free-throw contest Dale Jr. challenged Shaq to when the championship-winning player arrived at his house. Junior said they were tied at 3-3 before Shaq stepped it up to win.

"Once he saw he was about to lose, I think he turned it on," Junior said.

To see who prevails on the racetrack, tune into "Shaq Vs." tonight at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

Dale Jr. and his championship hopes
On Tuesday's show, Patrick compared LeBron James' announcement to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat with Earnhardt Jr.'s decision to vacate his family's race team DEI for Hendrick Motorsports in 2007.

Earnhardt Jr. said like James, he got negative feedback on how he was handling the press conferences, such as that he was making too big of a deal. And like James, Earnhardt Jr.'s decision came with a lot of pressure.

"That was the reason you do it, because you want to be in the best position ... That's what you do in life. You're supposed to put yourself in the best position you can," Dale Jr. said. "I felt like at the time that I was the guy saying 'I want the ball.' You know, that's the kind of player that I want to be and that's the kind of player you want to pull for."

Earnhardt Jr. said he didn't expect to win his first Sprint Cup title right after moving to Hendrick. "I've been racing a long time, I knew how tough it is to win those." But he also said, "I thought surely by now we'd be challenging and in more competitive form" than the team is now.

Patrick asked Earnhardt Jr. how close the team was to a title. Dale Jr. said matter-of-factly, "We're not close.

"We're having a better year than we did last year. Last year was a disaster. This year is better. ... We're missing some things. You can't see these things, they're not tangible, obvious adjustments you know you need to make. You keep working hard, and working hard, and showing up each weekend and hopefully you flip the switch and it starts working. We're still a couple pieces away from where we need to be."

Earnhardt Jr. admitted a bad finish keeps him up at night. "This past weekend we had a pretty tough deal. It'll be until Wednesday before I'm OK, before I'm over it. You just get so upset about it. ... It's too hard for me to just let go of it."

Earnhardt Jr. finished 27th in Sunday's Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway after fighting an ill-handling racecar and engine troubles.

Photo: Dale Earnhardt Jr. signs autographs at Pocono Raceway.
(Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Dale Jr. goes one-on-one with Shaq, talks about title hopes Dale Jr. goes one-on-one with Shaq, talks about title hopes Reviewed by Rebecca Kivak on Tuesday, August 03, 2010 Rating: 5