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NASCAR's Dale Earnhardt Jr. turns 40 as he chases first Cup title

NASCAR's Dale Earnhardt Jr. turns 40 as he chases first Cup title
Dale Earnhardt Jr. smiles Oct. 9 before qualifying for Saturday's NASCAR Bank of America Sprint Cup series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C. (Chuck Burton / Associated Press)

Amid one of the best seasons of his career, NASCAR's Dale Earnhardt Jr. turned 40 on Friday.

The popular son of the late Dale Earnhardt has three wins in the Sprint Cup Series this season and he's trying to win his first series championship in NASCAR's Chase For the Cup playoff.

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But under NASCAR's new knockout-style Chase format, Earnhardt likely would need to win either Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway or the following weekend in Talladega, Ala., to keep advancing.

Driving the No. 88 Chevrolet for the Hendrick Motorsports team, Earnhardt qualified ninth for the Charlotte race.

In the meantime, Earnhardt on Thursday reflected on turning 40 while meeting with the media at the Charlotte track.

Despite losing his father, a seven-time champion, when the elder Earnhardt was killed in a crash at the Daytona 500 in 2001 at age 49 -- and when the younger Earnhardt was 26 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he was grateful.

"You kind of reflect a little bit and you think about how lucky everything has worked out and how fortunate," Earnhardt said. "What a hell of a deal ... I mean, I've had so much fun.

"I feel like I just have a lot of things that I've yet to accomplish, not only in racing, but in life in general, lot of fun that I'm not done having," he said.

Earnhardt's strong season has been a marked rebound from a long slump he endured. His three wins this year matched the number of victories he earned in the prior eight years combined. Earnhardt has a total of 22 wins in his Cup career.

As for getting the much needed win at Charlotte to keep his title hopes alive, Earnhardt said: "I think we are good enough. I think we should go out there and win. I believe we will."

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