NASCAR & Auto Racing

Earnhardt enjoys 40th birthday in Charlotte

According to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s birth certificate, he’s turning 40 on Friday.

But if you ask Junior, he’ll tell you he doesn’t feel 40.

“I think that 40, to me, means ‘Whoa, I’ve still got a lot of fun stuff I want to do, so slow down,’ ” Earnhardt said Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the site of Saturday night’s Bank of America 500. “I’m aging in literal years faster than I am physically and mentally.

“Definitely being 40 has been an awesome time. This week has been full of surprises and pleasant stuff happening left and right. I think that probably has a little bit to do with my disposition.”

Earnhardt had plenty of reasons to be in a bad mood this week – he finished 39th at Kansas, and dropped from seventh to 11th in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings.

With two races remaining – Charlotte and next week at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway – before the bottom four drivers in the Chase field get cut, you’d think Earnhardt would be feeling a little pressure.

Far from it, thanks to the new Chase format.

“If we had hit the fence last year in one of those races, you would pretty much written yourself off at that point,” Earnhardt said. “(But) we still feel like we have a shot, there is a chance. That is all you want to be able to go out there with a good attitude and try to make it happen.

“There are two races left (before the cut), but I would like to make it happen this weekend because I haven’t won a points-paying race here yet. That would be just amazing for us to go ahead and get that done with the circumstances that we’ve got.”

Charlotte hasn’t been one of Earnhardt’s better tracks over his career – in 29 starts, he has an average finish of 19.4, with 11 top 10 finishes. But since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, Earnhardt has finished in the top 10 only three times, with an average finish of 22.9.

But Earnhardt’s performance last week at Kansas – he led 45 laps, and was leading when a blown tire sent him into the wall on Lap 122 – has him thinking things could turn out different at Charlotte.

“I was thrilled with how we ran last weekend,” Earnhardt said. “We had a super-fast car, and this place is a bit similar.

“You can’t come into this race going ‘Alright, well we ran good last time we were here, so we should be good this time.’ You kind of got to look a little shorter down the road, and (Kansas) was our best opportunity to really look at a track that compares (with Charlotte).”

So if Earnhardt – who will start ninth in Saturday night’s 500-miler – pulls off a win, don’t be surprised if an impromptu party breaks out in Charlotte’s Victory Lane.

After all, he just turned 40.

“I have been winless at Charlotte in a point-paying race since I started my career, so it’s bound to happen sooner or later,” Earnhardt said. “I always win at the weirdest times in the oddest circumstances. So I feel like everything is lining up, and feel real good about this weekend.”

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