NASCAR drivers as college basketball coaches

Jason Smith

If you compare the characteristics and career arcs of NASCAR drivers to college basketball coaches, you can’t help but notice a lot of parallels.

The worlds of NASCAR and college basketball converge this weekend in the Dallas-Fort Worth area: The men’s Final Four takes place at AT&T Stadium, while just 30 miles away the Sprint Cup Series is racing at Texas Motor Speedway. And although the two sports are diverse, they are some striking similarities between the main principals (drivers and coaches) involved.

Kevin Harvick is Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan

  • Neither has a national title at the highest level (Ryan is making his first trip to the Final Four, Harvick's best championship finish is third) but each is among the best in his profession. (Ryan's teams have won three Big Ten championships; Harvick owns 24 wins in NASCAR's top division.)

  • Ryan and Harvick are with teams whose colors are red and white.

  • Both share a close relationship with Badger guard Ben Brust. (The shooting guard is a diehard NASCAR fan and Harvick is his favorite driver. The two have even played hoops together at Harvick's race shop.)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is Georgetown coach John Thompson III
  • Both followed in the footsteps of their Hall of Fame fathers.

  • While forever being linked with their dads, both have been able to carve out their own identities.

  • Earnhardt once drove for the team owned by his father. Thompson coaches at Georgetown, the school his dad once coached at and led to the 1984 national title.

  • Endured stretches of ineffectiveness. (Earnhardt went three straight seasons without a single victory. Thompson hasn't coached past the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament since 2007, twice missing it altogether.)
Kyle Busch is UCLA coach Steve Alford
  • Controversial departures from previous teams. (Busch was basically booted out of Hendrick Motorsports to make way for Earnhardt. Alford jumped ship from New Mexico shortly after agreeing to a new contract.)

  • Sustained success during the regular season. (Alford has a .668 winning percentage, four regular season championships overall, and his teams have claimed six NCAA Tournament berths in the previous 10 years. Busch has 29 Sprint Cup victories and six Chase appearances in nine seasons.)

  • Noted failures in the postseason. (Alford has only made it past the opening weekend twice. Busch has just one Chase victory to his credit, and has never gone into the final race of the year as a contender for the championship.)
Brad Keselowski is Kentucky coach John Calipari
  • An affinity for Twitter. (To aid recruiting, Calipari uses social media to showcase his relationships with Jay Z and other entertainers. Keselowski was among the first drivers to embrace Twitter.)

  • A preference for blue and white apparel.

  • Occasionally outspoken, never shy about sharing their feelings that have been known to bring out the worst in their rivals. (Former Temple coach John Chaney once stormed a Calipari press conference screaming "I'll kill you." Keselowski once flipped end-over-end at 190 mph after Carl Edwards intentionally wrecked him.)
Jimmie Johnson is Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski
  • Almost universally despised for their dominance and perceived arrogance.

  • The barometer for which others in their respective sport measure themselves up against.

  • Despite not being afraid of voicing their strong opinions, both are often derided for being vanilla.
Matt Kenseth is Florida coach Billy Donovan
  • In spite of their championship résumés, both are rarely given enough credit for their excellence and frequently see others grab more headlines.

  • Mentored by two greats. (Donovan played for and coached under Rick Pitino; Kenseth caught the eye of Mark Martin, who played a role in getting him a seat with Roush Fenway Racing.)
Jeff Gordon is Michigan State coach Tom Izzo
  • Although still prominent and contending for wins and championships, much of Gordon's and Izzo's success occurred around the turn of the century. (Gordon's last of four titles came in 2001; Izzo won his last and to date only national championship in 2000.)

  • Gordon is often overshadowed by Hendrick teammate Jimmie Johnson. Although the Spartans are consistently better, Izzo and MSU often play second fiddle to in-state rival Michigan .
Kurt Busch is Auburn coach Bruce Pearl
Kyle Larson is Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart
  • Young, tremendous talents considered the future of their sports.

  • Took lesser teams to new heights. (Smart led VCU to the 2011 Final Four. In his rookie season with the perennially underachieving No. 42 Chip Ganassi entry, Larson already has a runner-up finish at Fontana.)

  • Resisted overtures from bigger programs. (Illinois and UCLA have attempted to woo Smart; Hendrick tried recruiting Larson to be Gordon's heir apparent.)
Tony Stewart is Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim
  • Tendencies to blame the media.

  • A sardonic temperate with occasional outbursts of anger. (If Stewart were a coach, it's not hard to imagine him storming the court like Boeheim did after a controversial call in a loss to Duke.)

  • Enjoys needling the opposition.

  • Prolonged consistency. (Boeheim's won more than 20 games in 36 of the 38 seasons. Stewart has won at least one race for 15 consecutive years.
Danica Patrick is Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith
  • A significant moment of glory, which with time seems somewhat fleeting. (Smith won the 1998 championship at Kentucky, but was unpopular with fans and fled to Minnesota, where he was eventually fired. Patrick became the first woman to win a major open-wheel race, yet has struggled to find similar success since switching to stock cars.)

  • Often so vastly overrated they might in fact be underrated. (Despite the consternation of those in Kentucky blue, Smith did lead the Wildcats to three additional Elite Eight appearances. Patrick's IndyCar record is pretty solid, and she's shown -- albeit small -- progress in NASCAR.

  • Media darling. (ESPN often heaps praise on Smith for his coaching acumen just as Fox tends to adore Patrick.)

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