So long, Junior.
In that peculiar expression of the day, we’ll miss your face around these parts of NASCAR Nation.
Suffice it to say, hosannas will be heard from the most devoted disciples of one of NASCAR’s icons, who is calling it a career at 43 after a series of concussion issues.
Just how revered is the Intimidator’s heir? The chronicles of his career are expected to be eventually included somewhere after 2 Corinthians.
Junior is indeed religion to some.
The No. 88 will make one last spin around Texas Motor Speedway’s mile-and-a-half oval during Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup race.
Junior’s history at TMS is well documented. He earned his first career Xfinity and Cup victories in Fort Worth. And he is always a player here.
In fact, statistically, Junior’s best chance to win in the circuit’s final three races is in Texas. One guy believes a Junior victory would lead teary-eyed JR Nation to tear up the pea patch.
Emotions in NASCAR can run the spectrum.
“I think the fans would tear the place down to have a souvenir from the speedway” if Junior were to win, TMS President Eddie Gossage said. “It would be the final chapter, a perfect bookend to his career.”
Earnhardt is out of the running for that elusive Monster Energy series title. However, he will be the 19th member inducted into the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame on Saturday morning.
Other tribute events also are planned.
Among those will be a gift presentation by TMS President Eddie Gossage, who will bestow on No. 88 three retirement gifts on Friday. Considering what he has given to Jeff Gordon (Shetland ponies) and Tony Stewart (life-size bobblehead), the going-away presents are sure to be … unique.
And, all you NASCAR foodies, don’t forget to grab your “JR88” pretzels from the concession stand. They are two 4-ounce pretzels shaped into Little E’s No. 88. With them come dipping sauces of bacon beer cheese and spicy brown mustard.
Those are $10 and “hearty enough to feed two hungry JR Nation fans,” according to materials produced by the speedway. Sounds like a dare for one big JR Nation fan.
Junior isn’t the only storyline this week.
The playoffs are going on, too.
Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 is the eighth Monster Energy Cup Series playoffs race and second of the playoffs’ three-part Round of 8. The field will be trimmed to four after next week’s race in Phoenix.
If the winner this weekend comes out of the final eight drivers standing, he will advance to the final four.
Kyle Busch is in the final four after winning last week. Martin Truex Jr. is sitting pretty, as they say, with a 67-point lead over the cut line, and might clinch a berth in the final four with a strong finish at TMS.
Jimmie Johnson is seeking to become the first driver to win eight Monster Energy Cup series titles, but he sits outside the cut line. However, his odds are never long at TMS. The 42-year-old California native has won seven times in Fort Worth.
The final eight:
1. Martin Truex Jr.
2. Kyle Busch (clinched berth)
3. Brad Keselowski
4. Kevin Harvick
5. Jimmie Johnson
6. Ryan Blaney
7. Denny Hamlin
8. Chase Elliott
Chase on the case
Monster Energy Cup wunderkind Chase Elliott, at 21 one of the series’ fast-rising stars, desperately needs a win. And Texas is a place he could get it. “I think he can win,” said Parker Klingerman, an analyst with NBC Sports. “Of the tracks in the Round of 8, the track I feel he could win at is Texas.
“They’ve had incredible speeds on the mile-and-a-half since the start of the playoffs, at Charlotte and Kansas. I think this lines up very well for them.”
Elliott has had success here, also.
He won as an 18-year-old on the Xfinity circuit and has three top 10s, including two top 5 finishes, in three Monster Energy Cup starts at TMS.
Elliott, driving Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 24, appeared set for the final four last week before a wreck involving Denny Hamlin sent him from would-be winner to tumbling to the back of the field and madder than a wet hen.
Watch for rising stars
Elliott is among those most often mentioned as the head of the class of a new generation of stars the Cup series hopes emerges to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart as high-profile competitors whose apparel fans go to work in, go to eat dinner in, and go to sleep in.
Ryan Blaney, 23, sixth in the playoff standings, and 25-year-old Kyle Larson are two others.
Daniel Suarez, a son of Monterrey, Mexico, who is at the wheel of JGR’s No. 19 Toyota Camry, is 25.
And don’t forget 2015 Xfinity Series champion Chris Buescher, the son of nearby Prosper who is returning home this week and finishing off his second full season on the Monster Cup series on loan from Roush Fenway to JTG Daugherty Racing driving the No. 37 Chevrolet.
After last fall’s race, speedway officials brought in the paving solutions contractors to repave and reprofile the surface at Texas Motor Speedway after a number of lengthy rain delays in recent years.
The new surface debuted to high grades during April’s race weekend.
Fingers are still being crossed as the surface critics reassemble.
“I think the big topic for many will be what is the race track like,” Klingerman said. “These repaves can change very slowly or they can change very quickly depending on the climate and that sort of thing.
“That will be a big question mark on what kind of racing we will see.”
Bored sitting around waiting for the races to start? The Tanger Outlet mall just a short distance from the track could be an appealing option. The 350,000-square foot outdoor shopping mall includes more than 70 stores representing the best-known brands of shoes, shirts, children’s clothing, jewelry, makeup, and many other retail needs, plus a perfumery featuring bottles of Viva La Juicy. It can get rank in the infield.
RaceWeek at TMS
Camping World Truck Series,
7 p.m. Friday, FS1
XFINITY Series, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, NBCSN
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, 1 p.m. Sunday, NBCSN