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,

Gordon Foundation
Jeff Gordon held his annual benefit
Wednesday, raising close to $250,000 for the Hendrick Marrow

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."