Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick agree to extension

Earnhardt will be with Hendrick until 2017
Earnhardt will be with Hendrick until 2017

No worries about Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s contract talks with Hendrick Motorsports dragging into next season and becoming a distraction.

The team announced Thursday that Earnhardt has agreed to a five-year contract extension which will take him through the end of the 2017 season.

"We're excited to have everything formalized and announced," said team owner Rick Hendrick. "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."

Earnhardt has been with Hendrick Motorsports since the start of the 2008 season.

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

There were high expectations for Earnhardt when he signed up with Hendrick as he teamed with perenial championship contenders Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. But rather than reach new heights, Earnhardt has stuggled.

His best season was his first, when he turned in one win (his only win in the 88 car to this point), 10 top fives and 16 tops 10s. He made the Chase, but ultimately finished 12th in the final standings.

He had the worst season of his career in 2009, finishing 25th in the final standings with just two top fives and five top 10s. His 2010 season wasn't much better with three top fives and eight top 10s and a 21st-place finish in the final standings.

Earnhardt has enjoyed a bit of a resurgence this season after being paired with Gordon's former crew chief Steve Letarte. Though he's without a win, he's currently ninth in the standings and appears likely to make the Chase for the first time since 2008.