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chef211 09-03-2011 09:34 PM

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Hendrick announce deal extension through 2017
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Hendrick Motorsports have agreed to a five-year contract extension that will keep the sport’s most popular driver with the organization through 2017.

Earnhardt Jr. and team owner Rick Hendrick had agreed to extend the deal months ago. Earnhardt Jr. left Dale Earnhardt Inc. for Hendrick Motorsports following the 2007 season and had a five-year deal through 2012.

Earnhardt Jr. won one race and made the Chase For The Sprint Cup in 2008, his first year at Hendrick, but then finished outside the top 20 in the standings in 2009 and 2010. He is ninth in the current Cup standings yet still looking for his first win since June 2008.

“It’s great to have it all wrapped up so quickly and far in advance,” Earnhardt Jr. said in a news release. “Rick and I were on the same page from the first time we talked about it, so there wasn’t any sense in waiting. There were never any questions or hesitations from either of us. It was just, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’

“I’m really happy at Hendrick Motorsports and enjoy working with everyone here. The team’s been very competitive this season, and we’re all excited about the direction of things. I want to make sure we’re giving our fans something to cheer about for a long time.”

Kelley Earnhardt, Earnhardt Jr.’s business manager, and Hendrick Motorsports President Marshall Carlson negotiated the deal. No sponsorship for 2013-17 was announced.

“We’re excited to have everything formalized and announced,” Hendrick said. “Junior and I had a handshake agreement months ago, and we let other people work out the finer points from there. It was as simple and smooth as it gets.

“My feelings haven’t changed since the day he first signed with us. I’m committed as ever to putting him in the best possible situation to be successful and compete for wins and championships.”

The 36-year-old Earnhardt Jr. has not met expectations since joining Hendrick Motorsports. He had 17 victories at DEI and brought crew chief (and cousin) Tony Eury Jr. with him to Hendrick.

Eury Jr. was replaced by Lance McGrew in May 2009 and then McGrew was replaced as part of a in-house crew swap, pairing Earnhardt Jr. with crew chief Steve Letarte this season.

Letarte and Earnhardt Jr. have enjoyed Earnhardt Jr.’s most consistent season to date with the organization.

“From my heart, it's an amazing organization and just great, great people,” Earnhardt Jr. said in May. “I've learned a lot being around there and it's made me a better person

“We've still got a lot of things that we'd really like to accomplish on the race track. If I get the opportunity to stick around, I'm definitely excited about that.”

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