NASCAR Comes to Town with Junior Achievement!

Dale Earnhardt Jr. comes to Texas Motor Speedway with a hot hand. Photo Courtesy: Dominic Ceraldi
Dale Earnhardt Jr. comes to Texas Motor Speedway with a hot hand. Photo Courtesy: Dominic Ceraldi

By Will Martin

We have reached that time of the year where the mad scramble is on. That six week window of deciding how you want to spend your weekend with friends, family, or loved ones. The window gets incredibly tighter as you narrow it down between events of the arts and crafts variety. Especially in North Texas where each weekend, from April through May, consists of ‘A Taste Of (name your city)’ and then an afternoon of food, music, and heavy drinking. These events tend to go down simultaneously it seems.

The same applies for sports in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. The weekend of April 4th-6th there will be a bevy of fans in town for the NCAA Men’s Final Four Basketball over at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Note how the announcers will mention Dallas and not Arlington or Ft. Worth because of name recognition.

April in North Texas also turns into a time for prioritizing what’s important for viewing and attending. If the Stars and Mavericks have playoff aspirations then it’s a no-brainer. If that isn’t the case and the Rangers are in town the bandwagoning set will hop aboard the Diamond Train and jet on down to Globe Life Park.

The first week in April also guarantees us a three day festival of fun on the race track in Ft. Worth at Texas Motor Speedway. The spring stop-off of the 2014 NASCAR Race Series comes to town. The first of two stops which guarantee a lot of excitement, bumpy sub-plots and fantastic finishes.

Two weeks ago there was the unveiling of Big Hoss TV on March 19th. April 6th there will be Guinness Book Of Records people there to authenticate the largest LED TV screen in the world right here in Ft. Worth Texas.

There will also be another angle to keep an eye on. Less than two years ago I recall there was a certain racer who went through an ugly run of a drought, bad luck, poor mojo, fill in the blank. Son of the man who just happened to pass away the day I made the trek to North Texas from Seattle, Wa on 2/18/01.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. endured a 143 race streak from 2008-2012 where he he would not see a 1st place finish. That changed when he won the Quicken Loans 400 in Michigan.

Last year I marveled at how dominant Jimmie Johnson was in his win at TMS and being the points champion for the sixth time in seven years. One cannot help but be impressed with what Dale Jr. has done so far in 2014. Winning the Daytona 500 while starting ninth. A second place finish in Phoenix to Kevin Harvick in Phoenix. In Las Vegas, Dale Jr. would take a gamble on the final 40 laps of the race and come up a bit short on gas and finish second to Brad Keselowski.

Then came the poorest finish of the race week at Auto Club when Dale stared 15th and finished 24th. A victim of tire troubles before a bump on the 44th lap caused problems for team Junior. Last week a great comeback in a location that is rarely kind to the tracer or their car…Martinsville, Va.

A case for fresher tires by his opponents in the last 39 laps was the cause for a 3rd place finish and first atop the points board. Eight points better than Jeff Gordon. Still no grandfather clock. but a lot of pontification.

“You couldn’t run any harder with the wear we had on the tires,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “You just couldn’t afford to. You saw how the 20 car and the 18 car (of Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch), those guys would run real hard at the lead early in the race, and they set an example for the rest of us to watch out and be easy on that left‑rear tire … it just goes away like a snap.”

“I couldn’t afford to run any harder if I wanted to be competitive on the end of these runs. … None of the runs went past 80 laps, but typically we see a good long run in the middle of the race, and we were just ready for that.”

Junior continued, “Inside of 38 laps to go I thought everybody was going to go like hell, and we all did and ended up running third,” he said. “I think the two guys (Busch and Johnson) in front of me were — I was losing my car pretty fast there the last five laps so I didn’t have anything else to get there.”

“A couple lapped guys gave me the outside instead of the inside. That’s their right, but that cost me a little time and maybe some wear and tear on my tires. I thought when we passed the 22 (Joey Logano) we might be able to roll up there and get in the middle of the race for that win, but no, those guys’ cars, they were pretty good.”

Momentum tends to have a very intoxicating flavor when week after week you taste the chance for victory. 2014 looks to be a memorable year for Dale Earnhardt Jr. from here until November. Of course there will be other angles to keep an eye on as we approach this weekends O’Reilly Autoparts 300 and Duck Commander 500.

For starters, be sure to bring your appetite for the races as there will be a new menu item featured on behalf of Big Hoss TV.

Kyle Busch had the rare double double in winning both races when Ft. Worth was center stage last year. This year you’ll have tempers ready to flare if we see a repeat of last week with Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski who took issue with being bumped from the clock.

Clint Bowyer was a ninth place finisher in Virginia-a fan favorite of the Duck Dynasty commander. He’ll have hopes of winning in Texas.

While the rest of the world has their eyes on the NCAA Final Four in Jerry World yours truly will be fully immersed at Texas Motor Speedway for all three days, replete with the knowledge I will be privy to an LED TV screen that is 79% bigger than what the leader of the Silver and Blue possesses. When the smoke clears on the afternoon of April 6 I expect Dale Jr., Jimmie Johnson, and Kevin Harvick fighting for victory. April 4 will mark my first partaking in the truck side of racing. I will provide a keen report upon the end of the race.

It happens three times a year between NASCAR and the IRL. Here’s to a historic weekend in North Texas, no matter what it is you decide upon.