Junior encouraged by team's effort
Dale Earnhardt Jr. celebrated his 31st birthday on Monday without much fanfare.
NASCAR's most popular driver has been out of the spotlight since failing to make it into the season-ending, 10-race Chase for the Nextel Cup championship. He heads into Saturday night's UAW-GM Quality 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., with little riding on the outcome.
But Earnhardt, coming off a 34th-place finish on Sunday in Kansas and with only one top-five in his last six races, said he remains motivated to finish the season strong.
"We need a good weekend," said Earnhardt, who drives for Dale Earnhardt Inc., the company founded by his late father. "We've had good cars, but we had no chance to show what we've got. We've just been caught in early wrecks and had the loose wheel [three weeks ago] at Dover [Del.], and -- I don't know -- either we're in somebody's way or they're in ours.
"I'm real pleased with the cars they've built, and they've gotten so much better over the course of the year. That's a credit to everyone at DEI. They've been putting in some long hours, so I'd really like to get 'em a good finish this weekend. We need it. I need it. It'd make our off day Sunday a lot better."
Earnhardt, like most of the Cup stars, loves racing at Lowe's, the track in suburban Charlotte.
"It's home. That alone makes it one of my favorites. It's late in the season, so there ain't a whole lot that beats sleeping in your own bed," he said.
As for turning 31, Earnhardt said his celebration was "just the usual hell-raisin' me and my buddies do any other week. That's usually better than what most people do on their birthdays, anyway."
Jeff Gordon held his annual benefit Wednesday, raising close to $250,000 for the Hendrick Marrow Foundation.
The day of activities in Charlotte began with an opportunity to race go-karts against Gordon, and 16 companies paid the $3,000 entry fee to go wheel-to-wheel with the four-time NASCAR champion. The fundraiser concluded with a dinner with Gordon for 250 people, followed by an auction.
Among the items auctioned off were trips for two to the ESPY Awards and the 2006 Daytona 500, as well as a week-long stay in a villa in France.
The evening included a rare donor-receipient meeting arranged by The Jeff Gordon Foundation. The foundation arranged for a local donor to meet for the first time the woman who received his marrow.
"This is just a great day for me and for the Jeff Gordon Foundation because we are able to do some things that are really exciting and find a way to help the Hendrick Marrow Program," Gordon said. "We're constantly looking for ways to raise money in a way that can be used to save lives."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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