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.