This is kind of like watching Walter Payton's last game at Soldier Field or Larry Bird running down the parquet floor for the final time at Boston Garden.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s career at Daytona International Speedway — a place that has brought his family triumph and tragedy — will come to an end at 6:30 p.m. Saturday (NBC) for the Coke Zero 400.

Or will it?

Earlier this year, Earnhardt announced 2017 would be his final season on the NASCAR circuit where he is annually the most popular driver with the fans.

Expect to see Earnhardt in the broadcasting booth for NBC or Fox next year as he also continues to be involved as a co-owner of JR Motorsports with a team in the Xfinity Series.

However, Earnhardt hinted last week "to never say never" and if "the right deal" came along he would be open to driving in the Daytona 500 again.

This isn't really unprecedented.

Earnhardt's former teammate with Hendrick Motorsports, Jeff Gordon, came out of retirement last year when Earnhardt went to the sidelines with a concussion.

Stars in other sports have had short retirements, as well. The best example is Michael Jordan, who twice came out of retirement to play in the NBA. That was one comeback too many.

Earnhardt has won four times at Daytona, twice in the 500 and twice in the summer race on Fourth of July weekend. He was second in the Daytona 500 in 2001 when his father and NASCAR legend, Dale Earnhardt, was killed on the final lap.

Perhaps one of the most emotional moments in all of sports happened a couple months later when Junior took the checkered flag at Daytona. That might have forever cemented his status as a NASCAR icon.

Earnhardt definitely is a threat to win again at Daytona on Sunday. If that should happen, he should get out of his car, kiss the track and never again get behind the wheel there.

You couldn't write a more poetic ending.

Golf: KPMG Women's PGA (NBC, 2 p.m. Saturday, Sunday): The PGA Tour isn't the only place bristling with young talent. The LPGA has a wealth of twentysomething stars who will battle in a major at Olympia Fields. 

Soccer: U.S. vs. Ghana (ESPN, 4 p.m. Saturday): Bruce Arena is unbeaten in seven matches as U.S. coach since coming back in November as Americans play last friendly before next week's CONCACAF Gold Cup. 

MLB: Nationals at Cardinals (ESPN, 7 p.m. Sunday): It may be now or never time for St. Louis to make its move as the second half of the season begins. Tough assignment here, though, against Max Scherzer.

Contact Jim Benson at jbenson@pantagraph.com.

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Sports Writer

Sports Writer for The Pantagraph.

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