Johnson, sponsor sign extensions

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – NASCAR points leader Jimmie Johnson signed a three-year contract extension Monday committing him to Hendrick Motorsports through the 2010 season.

Lowe’s, the primary sponsor of the No. 48 Chevrolet, also agreed to stay with the team through 2010. The deal comes just as Johnson prepares for the next two weeks of racing at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, the track he has dominated since entering the Nextel Cup series in 2002. Johnson has won the past three Coca-Cola 600s, and the All-Star race in 2003.

“Since I started in Nextel Cup racing, my association with Lowe’s and Hendrick Motorsports has been absolutely incredible,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t be more proud of this relationship and look forward to continuing what we’ve started with the No. 48 Lowe’s team.”

Johnson was plucked out of the Busch Series by Hendrick in 2001 to be the first driver of the newly formed No. 48 team.

. Built from the ground up by crew chief Chad Knaus, Johnson made a stunning debut by winning the pole for the 2002 Daytona 500.

In the four-plus seasons since, Johnson has 21 victories in 158 starts and has finished second in the final series standings twice. He has never been lower than fifth in the final points.

Johnson already has three victories this season.

“We believe this is the best combination in racing,” said Robert Niblock, chief executive of Lowe’s. “We are all proud to have someone like Jimmie carry the Lowe’s name in NASCAR.”

There was no word on an extension for Knaus, who was part of the last round of contract negotiations when he, Johnson and Lowe’s all signed five-year deals in May, 2003. Those deals went into effect immediatly and expired at the end of 2007.

Knaus was caught cheating during preparations for the Daytona 500, drawing a four-race suspension that forced him to watch from home when Johnson won that race. The pair has been among the strongest in NASCAR, but ended last season denying rumors Knaus wanted out of his contract.

AP-ES-05-15-06 1807EDT

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