Danica Patrick could take Newman's crew in 2013

Associated Press Modified: October 1, 2012 at 9:26 am •  Published: September 29, 2012
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Turns out, they're both tight with Jordan's former Chicago Bulls coach, Doug Collins.

Collins, starting his third season coaching the Philadelphia 76ers, has forged a bond with Hamlin over the past 18 months after the NASCAR star visited the Sixers before their 2011 playoff run.

Hamlin was invited by Collins to address the team and played a game of HORSE with guards Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner.

"I've just enjoyed watching his career and how he's doing," Collins said.

Collins was impressed with Hamlin's impromptu talk to the team about having fun and enjoying the playoff chase — something he admitted to the Sixers he failed to do when he was runner-up for the 2010 Cup championship. Hamlin also shared a story about he stuck by his pit crew after a poor season, then was rewarded the next season with his crew was recognized as one of the best in the sport. That message of sticking together as a team through the tough times resonated with Collins because the Sixers had turned a 3-13 start into a playoff berth.

"He said he's my biggest fan," said Hamlin, smiling. "I think my mom is, but he texts us every week now during the Chase and congratulates us on how we've been doing."

Collins is a master motivator who has turned the Sixers into winners and Eastern Conference contenders. He requests smiley faces when he texts his players and gifts them with inspirational books.

"He gives you that pep talk similar to MJ," Hamlin said. "He's a lot like (owner) Joe Gibbs in the sense of how he is as a team leader."

Hamlin's stop in Philadelphia was no one-and-done meeting. Athletes meet other athletes or coaches all the time at awards shows, commercial shoots, or sponsorship requirement. But a bond forged like the one between Collins and Hamlin is pretty rare. Collins doesn't even watch NASCAR. Hamlin, while an NBA junkie, is a Bobcats fan. They met again last season with the Sixers played at Charlotte.

"I don't know what he sees in us," Hamlin said. "But he knows that I'm a huge basketball fan and I have the drive to win the championship. He's just behind me every week."

Hamlin, third in the points standings, was open this week about his disdain for racing at Dover International Speedway. Hamlin received advice from a sports psychologist that he needed to "fall in love with the track."

Collins read this week about Hamlin's struggles at Dover and was proud of how he is trying to overcome them.

"I just tried to reach out and gave him some encouragement," Collins said. "I just tell him to kick (rear) and that I'll be watching. More important, have fun with what you're doing. The thing I love about him is that he loves what he's doing."

Collins just hasn't quite persuaded Hamlin to make the 76ers his favorite NBA team over the Bobcats.

"It's tough being a Bobcats fan," Hamlin said. "But being the home team, you've got to root for them."

But he does root for Collins and the Sixers to do well — especially in the postseason.

"I'm just a big fan of Doug," Hamlin said. "I think he's one of those guys that has the respect of everyone at the NBA."