NASCAR's most popular driver, fan favourite Dale Earnhardt Jr., has wrapped up a contract extension to remain with his current team Hendrick Motorsports through to the end of the 2017 season.

Earnhardt's current contract isn't due to expire until the end of next season, but the driver was keen to get the deal wrapped up well in advance and avoid the sort of fevered speculation about contracts that has dogged Carl Edwards at Roush Fenway Racing this season, and arguably adversely affected Edwards' Sprint Cup championship campaign with all the distraction.

"It's great to have it all wrapped up so quickly and far in advance," said Earnhardt Jr. said in a press 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.'"

Earnhardt left the details to his manager and sister, Kelley Earnhardt, to negotiate with Hendrick Motorsports President Marshall Carlson, again in contrast to Carl Edwards who handles his own business affairs himself.

"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."

Currently 36, Earnhardt Jr. will be 43 by the time the current contract comes to an end in 2017. He originally moved to Hendrick Motorports at the end of 2007 in a shock move away from the team bearing his famous father's name: Dale Earnhardt Inc. subsequently merged to form Earnhardt Ganassi Racing which currently fields Juan Montoya and Jamie McMurray.

His team owner Rick Hendrick is also a co-owner of Earnhardt's JR Motorsports Nationwide Series team, which next year will field Danica Patrick in the #7 car for a full Nationwide season.

The straightforward and harmonious contract extension for Earnhardt is in stark contrast to the increasingly strained situation at Richard Childress Racing, where Clint Bowyer is still locked in discussions with the team regarding his own contract extension.

Bowyer had at one point looked to be a possible alternative signing for Roush Fenway if Carl Edwards had decided to jump ship to Joe Gibbs Racing, but once Edwards opted to stay put it then seemed a foregone conclusion that he would quickly re-up with Childress.

However, while both parties are said to be agreed on wanting to continue working together, reports have suggested that Bowyer is putting a very different dollar value on his worth to the organisation than Childress is inclined to, and that the two parties are far apart on the financial terms of any new deal.

Bowyer was quick to deny this: "No, no," he said. "We're on the same page as far as what we're up against. I don't have a job until we find money and he doesn't have a fourth team until they find some money. It's as simple as that ... It's not that we're fighting and bickering or disagreeing on money or whatever else."

Bowyer's negotiating position is not as strong as it could be, as right now he looks set to miss out on a Chase spot despite being in 12th place in the points. He'll need a win either this weekend at Atlanta or next weekend at Richmond to have a shot at getting in via a wildcard. He's also running out of time, as his current RCR contract expires at the end of this season.

The situation has now been further complicated by news that Richard Petty Motorsports have made Bowyer an offer for next year to try to woo him away from RCR.

"We gave him an offer recently and are hoping to hear back from him," said RPM majority owner Andrew Murstein on Sirius XM NASCAR Radio at the weekend.

Murstein had already said earlier this year that Bowyer headed his list of drivers should the team - which was nearly forced to shutter its garage in last winter over financial problems before racing legend Richard Petty stepped back in to assume control - be in a position to expand to a three-car line-up with Bowyer potentially joining Marcos Ambrose and AJ Allmendinger.

Pundits are still unconvinced that RPM has the resources to pull off a three-car team even now, and a move by Bowyer would be a major gamble for the 32-year-old Kansas native, but Bowyer is leaving the possibility open if only as leverage in his talks with RCR.

"I'm weighing all options, every option," he agreed. "You're not doing yourself any justice not to."

Fastenal move to Cup to sponsor Edwards

Now that Carl Edwards has re-signed with Roush Fenway Racing, RFR are busy sorting out the sponsorship situation on his #99 car.

The team announced today that construction industry fastener distributor and supplier Fastenal will be the primary sponsor for Edwards in 17 of the 36 Sprint Cup races in 2012.

Fastenal has been Edwards' Nationwide Series sponsor for the last two years where they have visited victory lane together five times. With Edwards deciding to wind down his Nationwide appearances next year it seems that the company have decided to move series to continue to be able to stand by their man.

In a deal described as a "multiyear" arrangement, Fastenal will also sponsor both other Roush Fenway Racing cars in one 2012 race to have a run at a Fastenal top three lockout.

"It's hard to imagine a better driver or a better spokesperson for our company than Carl Edwards," said Fastenal's Executive Vice-President of Operations, Cory Jansen, in a press statement. "He's become a true member of the Fastenal 'blue team' and we can't wait to see him make a run for the championship."

Edwards' longtime Cup sponsor Aflac has not made any decision yet about its own involvement in NASCAR in 2012.