It's looking like Dale Earnhardt Jr. is going to be with Hendrick Motorsports at least through 2015, and possibly much longer.
On Saturday night, Earnhardt confirmed shortly after the Sprint Showdown race that he has indeed been working with team owner Rick Hendrick on a new, multiyear extension, one which would take effect after his current one ends in 2012 and last three to five years.
"We've talking on the phone a little bit, seeing what we think, and I am excited to be where I am," Earnhardt said. "From my heart, it's an amazing organization and just great, great people. I've learned a lot being around there and it's made me a better person. We've still got a lot of things that we'd really like to accomplish on the race track. If I get the opportunity to stick around, I'm definitely excited about that. We've just been talking about it, hopefully, I don't think we'll have any trouble working things out."
That "lot of things" to accomplish on the race track would presumably include winning races, and the fact that Junior is now well past the century mark of races without a victory. That long barren streak has been enough to cause some rather out-of-touch types to propose that Hendrick should cut ties with Earnhardt.
That idea is, of course, ludicrous, simply because Earnhardt isn't a driver who can be judged by typical racing standards. He's an institution, a corporation unto himself in a way that no other driver can hope to match. His enduring popularity, his marketing cachet, his merchandising muscle — when even the top teams are having trouble coming up with sponsorship for a full season, you do whatever you have to do to hold onto a guaranteed, year-in, year-out windfall. Yes, Junior may lay eggs on the track ... but they're golden ones.
More on this as it develops, but it's looking like the biggest free agent of 2012 won't get anywhere near the open market.