Dale Earnhardt Jr. Reportedly Working on Extension at Hendrick Motorsports

Hank EptonCorrespondent IDecember 3, 2010

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 02:  Dale Earnhardt Jr. (C), driver of the #88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet, speaks to the media after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champions Week NMPA Myers Brothers Awards Luncheon at the Bellagio on December 2, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Rick Hendrick are negotiating an extension to their five-year agreement, according to ESPN.com.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. just completed the third year of his current contract, which extends through 2012.

The reports come in the wake of the Thanksgiving surprise announcement that a major shakeup at Hendrick Motorsports would move Earnhardt Jr., Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon to different teams for the 2011 season.

Earnhardt Jr. will be paired with the team formerly piloted by Jeff Gordon, Gordon will move to the team formerly supporting Mark Martin and Martin will be working with the team that fielded cars for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2010.

Only the championship pairing of Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus goes unchanged in the moves.

Along with the change in teams come new crew chiefs for all three drivers, with former Jeff Gordon crew chief Steve Letarte taking over top wrenching duties for the No. 88 Amp Energy Drink/National Guard Chevy driven by Dale Earnhardt Jr.

That team helped four-time champion Jeff Gordon to a ninth-place points finish in 2010.

On Thursday, Rick Hendrick again stated his confidence in the shuffle at Hendrick Motorsports, and the benefits to his wildly popular driver.

“I really like him. I think the world of him. I know he can do it. We just have to get the right combination in, and I think we're going to have it.”

Earnhardt Jr. says the new pairing with crew chief Steve Letarte brings a new excitement to 2011.

“The anticipation to get to the track is more and you’re ready to go to work.”

The urgency of the team shuffle at Hendrick Motorsports was not lost on Earnhardt either.

"We needed this to happen. I needed this to happen and hopefully this is a good position. Hopefully this will get me back to winning races, running in the top five and running in the top ten."

Earnhardt also told ESPN he thought his biggest problem was his confidence, and that any improvement in his performance would start with Driver 88.

"The only person that can truly help me get where I need to go starts with me, then it goes to Rick, Steve [Letarte] and those guys in your inner circle every week and in your corner every week."

The report comes on the same day as Earnhardt Jr. pocketed his eighth consecutive Hamburger Helper Most Popular Driver award.

Earnhardt Jr.’s tenure at Hendrick Motorsports hasn’t been without highs and lows.

Junior began his career at Hendrick in 2008 with a Budweiser Shootout victory. He backed it up with another win later that season and a Chase appearance.

Since then, Earnhardt Jr. has been shut out of victory lane in both 2009 and 2010. In those seasons he posted points finishes of 25th and 21st respectively, leading to wild speculation as to the reasons for his decline and how to revive the career of one of the most charismatic figures in NASCAR.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has 18 career Sprint Cup wins, including the 2004 Daytona 500.  He’s posted three top five points finishes in 2003, ’04 and ’06.