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.