"Jr. Nation" is a phenomenon, but Earnhardt's situation shows that fan popularity and sponsor appeal isn't the be-all and end-all of things when it comes to a NASCAR career. His racing form has never really fulfilled his promise, and the slightly underwhelming form has led to an absence of wins since his much-heralded switch to Hendrick Motorsports. There were even some who thought that Rick Hendrick might think there were better deals to be done elsewhere, and simply walk away from Earnhardt when the current deal between team and driver ends in 2012 - despite the fact that Earnhardt has risen to fourth place in the Spring Cup championship through consistency.
But Hendrick squashed any such speculation at the weekend, stating unequivocally that "We know we want to be together and we just want to get this over with." He said that most of the major negotiating points were settled and that the deal would be for a three- to five-year extension. "It shows I'm committed to him and he's committed to us."
"I'm excited to be where I am," Earnhardt confirmed. "It's an amazing organization. There are some great, great people there. I've learned a lot being around there. It's made me a better person ... If I get an opportunity to stick around, I'm excited about that."
Compared to the cagey dance being played out between Edwards and Roush over a contract much closer to expiry, the Hendrick-Eardhardt Jr. arrangement is a model of calm.