When the green flag waves on the Bank of America 500 Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, it will represent a landmark moment in the career of Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The race will be the 500th start for Earnhardt in NASCAR's premier division.
"Yeah, it's not that big of a milestone to me," Earnhardt said Thursday after qualifying sixth. "I just hope I'm around for at least 250 or 500 more. I've really been blessed to have the opportunity to do what I do. I feel thankful every weekend to be able to get in some of the best cars in the series. I really mean that from my heart."
That he is making his 500th start at Charlotte is fitting, as it is both Earnhardt's home track and where he made his Cup debut in 1999 finishing 16th in car a owned by his late father. Since then, though he has visited Victory Lane 19 times, NASCAR's most popular driver has had an up-and-down career.
But now with Hendrick Motorsports after leaving his family-owned team following the 2007 season, Earnhardt has found stability; especially since being paired with crew chief Steve Letarte three years ago, which has produced three consecutive Chase berths.
"It's truly been a dream career for me and I never took it for granted that I would be driving race cars all my life and be able to make a living doing it," Earnhardt said. "I'm real thankful and it makes me reflect on that kind of thing."
His 500th start isn't the only commemorative moment of the week for Earnhardt, who celebrated his 39th birthday on Thursday.
"I feel 20, I feel good," Earnhardt said. "It's been great. Getting older is not awesome, but it's all how you feel I suppose."