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NASCAR's Dale Earnhardt Jr. reaches five-year extension with Hendrick Motorsports

September 1, 2011 |  1:22 pm

Dale Earnhardt Jr. reached a five-year contract extension with NASCAR's Hendrick Motorsports team that will keep him in the No. 88 Chevrolet through the 2017 season, it was announced Thursday.

Dale "It's great to have it all wrapped up so quickly and so far in advance," Earnhardt said in a statement. Without an extension, his contract would have expired at the conclusion of the 2012 season. Terms of the new pact were not disclosed.

Earnhardt moved amid much fanfare to the highly successful team owned by Rick Hendrick, starting with the 2008 season. The popular driver won one race that year.

Earnhardt -- who turns 37 in October -- mostly has struggled since then. He's now gone 117 races without a victory as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series prepares for its next race Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Still, Earnhardt is ninth in this year's Cup standings and thus poised to qualify for NASCAR's Chase for the Cup championship playoff.

The top 10 drivers in points after the season's first 26 races, along with two wild-card drivers who have the most wins among those 11th to 20th in points, qualify for the 10-race Chase that starts Sept. 18 at Chicagoland Speedway.

There are two races left to determine the Chase drivers: Sunday's race in Atlanta and a race Sept. 10 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.

"Junior and I had a handshake agreement months ago" on a contract extension "and we let other people work out the finer points from there," Hendrick said in a statement. "I'm committed as ever to putting him in the best possible situation to be successful and compete for wins and championships."

-- Jim Peltz

Photo: Dale Earnhardt Jr. before last weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. Credit: Jerry Markland / Getty Images