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Brad Daugherty: Daytona 500 win ‘might be the pinnacle’

Steve Letarte and Jeff Burton welcome JTG Daugherty Racing co-owner, Brad Daugherty, after Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s win in the 65th Daytona 500, something Daugherty calls a "dream come true" and a "big day for my bunch."

Brad Daugherty is one of those rare athletic figures who has enjoyed significant success in two major-league-level sports.

A basketball star at the University of North Carolina, Daugherty moved on to the National Basketball Association, where he played with the Cleveland Cavaliers for eight seasons (1986-94) and was named an all-star five times.

One of his biggest memories from that time, he said Wednesday, was playing on a Cavalier team that beat Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish and the rest of the mighty Boston Celtics in an Eastern Conference playoff game at Boston Garden.

“I’ve got this dual life that I’m so blessed to be a part of,” Daugherty said.

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The other side of that sporting life found Daugherty atop his “other” sport -- stock car racing--Sunday as driver Ricky Stenhouse and JTG-Daugherty Racing, co-owned by Daugherty, won the Daytona 500.

“It’s all part of a fantastic journey,” Daugherty said. “I have to say standing here as Daytona 500 champion in something that my dad loved -- it’s really, really significant. It might be the pinnacle.

“Beating those guys in Boston Garden was absolutely phenomenal, but I put so much blood, sweat and tears into this sport of racing that it was almost overwhelming Sunday. People ask which is better. They’re both a tremendous blessing to have been a part of. I was as excited Sunday at the end of that race as when we beat those guys in Boston Garden.”

Daugherty was at the speedway Sunday but left before the race because he was having some vision problems after recent surgery. He watched the race at home in Orlando.

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“It’s an accomplishment that declares you and stamps you as a champion,” he said. “It’s a little different from stick and ball. It’s a monumental accomplishment for me and my family, my race team. On a personal level, being the first African-American during Black History Month to win this (the 500) and to be a part of something that’s so significant in my life and having gone through something that’s been such a dynamic cultural shift in the last few years. I couldn’t be prouder.”

Daugherty said he encouraged Stenhouse during a preseason meeting to drive with more patience and not attempt to finish fifth in a 15th-place car. Now Sunday’s big win could be a big boost for the rest of the season, he said.

“I think if we approach it in the right way, it can take some pressure off Ricky,” he said. “He wants to prove that that was not a mistake and that he is capable. Being a veteran guy, he can go out and use the skills and ability and showcase that instead of overdriving a race car that’s not that good that day.”