Sports

Dale Earnhardt Jr. in terrific spirits as he prepares to celebrate 40th birthday

  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. waits in the garage during practice for Saturday's NASCAR Bank of America Sprint Cup series auto race in Concord, N.C., Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. waits in the garage during practice for Saturday's NASCAR Bank of America Sprint Cup series auto race in Concord, N.C., Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)  (The Associated Press)

  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. prepares for practice for Saturday's NASCAR Bank of America Sprint Cup series auto race in Concord, N.C., Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. prepares for practice for Saturday's NASCAR Bank of America Sprint Cup series auto race in Concord, N.C., Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)  (The Associated Press)

  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. looks from his car before practice for Saturday's NASCAR Bank of America Sprint Cup series auto race in Concord, N.C., Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. looks from his car before practice for Saturday's NASCAR Bank of America Sprint Cup series auto race in Concord, N.C., Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)  (The Associated Press)

The blown tire while he was leading at Kansas is long forgotten. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is celebrating his 40th birthday on Friday and the milestone has turned into a weeklong celebration.

It kicked off Monday when longtime girlfriend Amy Reimann successfully pulled off a surprise party that NASCAR's most popular driver never saw coming. He has visited with close friends and family, received terrific gifts and showed up at Charlotte Motor Speedway ready to win a race.

Earnhardt badly needs a victory Saturday night: His 39th-place finish at Kansas put him in danger of being eliminated from the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. A victory earns an automatic berth into the third round and next week's race is at the unpredictable Talladega Superspeedway.