Hendrick Motorsports reaches extension with Jimmie Johnson, Lowe’s

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BROOKLYN, Mich. — Hendrick Motorsports announced a three-year contract extension for seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson on Friday, keeping him with the No. 48 Chevrolet team through 2020.

The organization also announced an extension with primary sponsor Lowe’s, which will continue its longtime backing of the team through 2018.

Though the 41-year-old driver’s immediate future in the sport is settled for now, Johnson said it’s presumptuous to link the duration of his contract to the definitive endpoint of his career.

“I think in all fairness to the questions and to myself, any contract I sign right now with my age is probably going to raise questions,” Johnson said before the opening of on-track activity this weekend at Michigan International Speedway. “I get it, but I don’t have a vision of if it’s three (years), if it’s five, if it’s seven, I don’t know. I do know I’m having a great time and I don’t want to stop right now.”

Johnson has slowed little in his unfettered pursuit of stock-car racing history. This season, the 16-year veteran has a series-best three victories, which have raised his career total to 83 — tied for sixth place on the all-time list with NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough. Johnson won the most recent of his record-tying seven series championships in 2016, drawing even with Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty.

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Friday, he indicated there’s plenty of motivation to build upon his already impressive resume.

“I’ve said it before and continued to say that when the fire does go out, I will step down,” Johnson said. “I don’t have any framework now on a timeline. I just know that I’ve got three more years of trying to go out there and win championships and win races. I’m as hungry as I’ve ever been and as focused and dedicated on doing my job.

“We will see how these three years go and certainly from my standpoint I hope to collect another big trophy and then lots of other race trophies along the way and have some fun.”

The news adds some bedrock stability to Hendrick Motorsports, which is currently in a time of transition. Four-time champion Jeff Gordon, the sport’s third-winningest driver all-time, retired from full-time competition after the 2015 campaign. Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR’s most popular driver and a fixture at Hendrick since 2008, has indicated he’ll follow suit at the end of this season.

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The drivers may be changing, but Johnson said the perpetual constants have been team owner Rick Hendrick and his commitment to winning.

“The sport is always changing and evolving and how we win and how we stay on top has changed so much since I started in 2002,” Johnson said. “I have full confidence and trust in him and where he takes the team. Sitting in closed-door meetings I know that there is a lot of options being explored, and I know in Rick’s heart that it’s all to put the best four cars on the race track for Hendrick Motorsports and win races and championships. It’s hard to tell where it’s going to go, but my faith is in Rick.”

That faith has been rewarded by seemingly no surprises in contract negotiations over the years between the two sides, though Johnson has stopped short of a longer-term commitment. Gordon famously signed a “lifetime” contract with Hendrick Motorsports in the fall of 1999, an agreement that stretched over another 16 years of racing.

Still, fans probably can’t imagine Johnson in anything other than the No. 48. Though he hasn’t chosen to pursue a lifetime deal, Johnson said he can’t imagine driving anywhere else, either.

“I’ve had some discussions and that was in play at one point in time, but we just elected to go a different route,” Johnson said. “Rick and I have always said to one another on our word that I always have a spot at Hendrick Motorsports, and I’ve always told him I’m never going anywhere. Instead of it being necessarily a statement and shown through a lifetime contract we have just had a handshake and agreement amongst friends that I’ve got a car and I’ve always told him I’m never going anywhere.”