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Johnson aiming to get McNabb in a race car

December 03, 2013, David Caraviello,

Johnson says he spoke with McNabb this week, hopes to get him to a track

LAS VEGAS -- Is driving a race car an athletic pursuit? Former NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb may soon get the chance to find out for himself.

Six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson said he and the former Philadelphia Eagles great spoke by telephone Monday, and the two are working on getting McNabb into a race car.

"I hope so," Johnson said Tuesday at the 2013 NASCAR Motorsports Marketing Forum, which kicked off Champion’s Week. "I actually spoke with him on the phone yesterday, and we're making some ground there. We have to find a car big enough to get him in."

McNabb drew fire from all quarters of the NASCAR industry in late November, when he said Johnson was "absolutely not" an athlete after the Hendrick Motorsports great neared his sixth title at the sport's premier level. "He sits in a car and drives," McNabb said Nov. 15 on the "FOX Sports Live" television program. "That doesn’t make you athletic."

After clinching the title two days later at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Johnson fired back. "Yes, I am an athlete, and so is every other driver in one of these race cars," he said. 

The term particularly applies to Johnson, who has long made strength and endurance training a part of his routine, and regularly competes for age-group titles in running events and triathlons. He has hopes of one day competing in the Boston Marathon.

Johnson appeared on the same "FOX Sports Live" program Monday night, although McNabb was on vacation and not present. "Come to the track," Johnson said on the program. "Come just experience what goes on in a very simple way. I think we've been winning people over each and every year, and I'm excited to win Donovan over. I really think that we can. I'd love to change his mind."

Getting McNabb in a race car just might do the trick. That experience certainly won over former NBA great Shaquille O'Neal, who once raced against Dale Earnhardt Jr. on a short track for a television program.

"Whoever said these guys aren’t athletes are out of their minds," O'Neal told during a visit to Daytona International Speedway in July. "That was the toughest three hours I’ve ever had in my life. I was fitted for a car, me and Dale raced 50 laps, and I slept for two days after that. I really did. Being in a hot car, the AC thing blowing in your face, it’s very, very exhausting. And I was terrified. I don’t really get scared by a lot of stuff, but I was freaking terrified. You definitely have to be in great shape to do this."

Johnson hopes to see the same conversion in McNabb, who retired from professional football after the 2011 season following a career in which he made six Pro Bowls and took the Eagles to one Super Bowl.

"Honestly, it's a great opportunity," Johnson said. "Because there have been plenty of people who have doubted our sport and the athleticism that's involved with it. I know Shaquille's voice was heard. Donovan has a big voice right now, and once we get him turned around, he'll do great things for our sport."

For Johnson, who in many ways has helped to define athleticism in auto racing, it's a constant battle.

"We're winning them over one at a time," he said. "We'll get McNabb in a car here pretty soon and see what we can do."


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