NASCAR returns to the Valley: 5 reasons to get excited

NASCAR is set to make its annual November trip to the Valley this weekend -- and as always, racing fans have plenty to look forward to.

The weekend starts with the Lucas Oil 150 and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying on Friday, continues with the Ticket Galaxy 200 on Saturday and concludes with the big Can-Am 500 Cup Series race Sunday. Go here for the complete schedule of events.

Haven't bought a ticket yet? It's not too late. Here are five reasons to experience NASCAR at Phoenix International Raceway this weekend.

1. Last ride for Dale Jr.

Sunday will mark the last time Valley residents will be able to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. race in the No. 88 car. In April, the 43-year-old son of a late NASCAR legend announced he will retire at the end of the year.

Earnhardt has had a great deal of success at PIR: He is a three-time winner and has finished in the top 10 in six of his last eight races there. “Knowing we have won there helps you just go in there with a good attitude," Earnhardt said in a team statement. "I don’t think that we’ve lost hope on winning a race by any means. So, we’ll go in there with a solid attitude and see how it works out for us."

2. Will Harvick win again?

It's fair to say Kevin Harvick has claimed ownership status over PIR. Like Earnhardt, the 2014 Sprint Cup Series champion and two-time Xfinity Series champ enjoys racing in Arizona, as he's won a total of eight Cup Series races in Avondale, including six of the last 10. 

The 41-year-old Harvick currently has 4-to-1 odds to win Sunday's Can-Am 500, right behind the favorite, Kyle Bush, who is at 2.75-to-1. Can Harvick make it 7 for his last 11 at PIR on Sunday?

3. Michael McDowell

The driver of the No. 95 car will be the only Valley native on the track this weekend. Michael McDowell was born in Phoenix, grew up in Glendale just 20 miles from PIR, and would have attended Deer Valley High School had he not been home-schooled as a result of his busy racing schedule as a teenager.

The 32-year-old McDowell finished 24th in his most recent race at PIR in March. Regardless of his performance this weekend, McDowell always looks forward to coming home, as he told Cronkite News that he feels like a hometown hero at PIR. “Here, I feel like Dale Jr.," he said.

4. Interactive stuff

Racing fans will have a number of interactive opportunities throughout the weekend. The Pre-Race Pit Pass gives fans a chance to watch driver introductions from the track, as well as photo opportunities. Autograph sessions with drivers will take place Friday and Sunday. And live music will take place every day beginning Thursday night, concluding with a performance by Sugar Ray on Sunday morning.

5. The weather

Did we mention the weather will be near-perfect this weekend? Skies are expected to be sunny with highs in the low-to-mid 80s on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Yes, it's still a bit warmer than some might prefer, but after enduring months of triple digits, it's not too shabby.

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