Drivers dealing with their own type of March Madness

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North Carolina and Duke advanced to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament last weekend, but for the most part it went unnoticed in NASCAR.


"I didn't know there was a basketball tournament going on," Jimmie Johnson said.

Several drivers were asked at Bristol Motor Speedway what would be a bigger story in North Carolina -- basketball wins by the state's two biggest powers or a victory by Dale Earnhardt Jr. The vote was split.

"I think it would be a very big deal if (Earnhardt) won," Johnson said.

Jeff Gordon usually fills out a bracket, but he passed this year. With two children at home, his time and attention are being spent on family, not watching sports.

"I normally do, but I've been spending more time with my family and I just haven't had time to pay attention," he said. "It's not that they won't let me do it; they don't know anything about it. I'm in their world right now."

There are some ardent basketball fans in the sport. Jeff Burton is a season ticket holder for Duke, while Elliott Sadler is a longtime North Carolina supporter. Michael Waltrip roots for Kentucky and Dave Blaney 's favorite team is Ohio State.

LABOR PAINS: The problem between owners and players in the NFL hasn't been lost in NASCAR.

Some are keeping an eye on the lockout, believing stock car racing's in position to steal away some of football's overwhelming support.

Since every race team operates as independent contractors, the chance of labor unrest is remote. The drivers attempted to boycott the first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1969 over concerns with tear wear, but NASCAR president Bill France filled the starting lineup with ARCA drivers.

The prospect of no NFL in a few months has some shaking in disbelief.

"It kind of shocked me. I saw a headline the other day and I thought, 'The NFL might not play football?' I didn't know that was possible," Carl Edwards said. "I'm not the best NFL historian or anything, but that was kind of shocking to me that that could go on. In our sport, I don't think about that as an option."

Earnhardt is a fan of the Washington Redskins and he's not happy about the labor problems.

"I'm upset as a fan. I hope we get to see some football. I don't know what I'll do, how I'll replace my fantasy football league," he said. "Really, I mean, I look forward to it. I don't know what I'll do with my time. It will be disappointing not to have football, especially when our season's over.

"As a race car driver, that's one thing I look forward to about the end of the season, watching football, watch my team on Sunday. It will be disappointing that we might not have a season. That happens to be an opportunity for us. I just hope we get some football."

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