Ev­ery­thing all write with Jr.

Boston Herald - - SCOREBOARD - By DAN GEL­STON ASSOCIATED PRESS

JOLIET, Ill. — Dale Earn­hardt Jr. re­ceived a stamp of ap­proval from fans want­ing to write let­ters to the re­tir­ing star, wish­ing him luck.

Jen­nifer Hoger has at­tended races at Chicagoland Speed­way for 15 years and penned sim­i­lar farewell notes to for­mer NASCAR cham­pi­ons Jeff Gor­don and Tony Ste­wart in their re­tire­ment sea­sons. She stopped at the red mail­box with No. 88 on the door to drop off her let­ter: Dear Dale, Thank you for all the mem­o­ries here (at)Chicagoland Speed­way!! Good luck in your fu­ture en­deav­ors!!! The Hoger Fam­ily Bridgeview, Ill. “It’s just some­thing I re­ally wanted to do for him,” she said. “He’s just a reg­u­lar guy when you see the way he in­ter­acts with peo­ple on pit road. He’s just a great guy.”

Mo­ments later, a track em­ployee picked up the latest haul from the stuffed mail­box — she es­ti­mated 200 let­ters al­ready had been writ­ten by Satur­day morn­ing — and promised they would be de­liv­ered to Ju­nior by the end of race week­end.

Randy Dunn had a sim­ple note for NASCAR’s most pop­u­lar driver: Hi Jr. Let’s Go Rac­ing Randy Dunn Dunn wrote his Mar­ion, Ill., ad­dress on the note just in case Ju­nior wanted to write back and maybe spend some time with him.

“I hope so. I’m a very big fan,” Dunn said. “What­ever he wants to do is fine with me.”

Fan en­thu­si­asm hasn’t waned for Ju­nior even as he’s stum­bled through a dis­heart­en­ing fi­nal sea­son that will end with­out a NASCAR Cup cham­pi­onship in his 18-year ca­reer. Earn­hardt, a two-time Day­tona 500 cham­pion, has just one top­five fin­ish this sea­son and hasn’t fin­ished bet­ter than 12th in his last 10 races in the No. 88 Chevro­let. When NASCAR’s ver­sion of the play­offs open to­day at Chicagoland, Earn­hardt starts with a more mod­est goal of fin­ish­ing the sea­son in­side the top 20 in the stand­ings.

“We should’ve run well all year and got­ten our­selves into the play­offs for all of our fans,” he said.

Earn­hardt has been feted at tracks all sea­son, re­ceiv­ing dona­tions in his name and framed photos of great mo­ments. At Chicagoland, he cud­dled a puppy as the track an­nounced an $8,800 do­na­tion to a Chicago-based an­i­mal shel­ter.

He strides through the garage hounded by au­to­graph-seek­ers who know this is their last chance to re­ceive that fa­vored sou­venir on their die cast, hat or poster.

There are 16 driv­ers in the NASCAR play­off field.

There’s only one driver with the stature of Dale Ju­nior.

Earn­hardt has been plagued by con­cus­sions the last sev­eral years, and he missed half of last sea­son re­cov­er­ing from a head in­jury. He de­layed con­tract talks on an ex­ten­sion to drive the No. 88 Chevro­let, and the win­ner of 26 ca­reer Cup races de­cided in the spring to call it quits this sea­son.

A third-gen­er­a­tion racer, Earn­hardt turns 43 in Oc­to­ber, is newly mar­ried and has said he wants to start a fam­ily. He has won NASCAR’s most pop­u­lar driver award a record 14 times.

AP PHOTO

END OF THE ROAD: Dale Earn­hardt Jr. pre­pares for yes­ter­day’s fi­nal prac­tice for to­day’s NASCAR Mon­ster En­ergy Se­ries race at Chicagoland Speed­way in Joliet, Ill.

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