DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Chase Elliott skipped free agency and signed a five-year contract extension that Hendrick Motorsports announced mere hours before the season-opening Daytona 500.

Elliott’s current contract ran through the end of this season. Hendrick Motorsports said in its Sunday announcement that the extension was signed one day earlier at Daytona International Speedway.

Elliott, the 2020 Cup champion and four-time reigning winner of the fan-voted most popular driver award, is locked into the No. 9 Chevrolet through 2027.

“I feel so fortunate to be in this position,” Elliott said. “I have a great team … and the support of the best car owner and racing organization in the world. For me, there’s a lot of pride in driving for Hendrick Motorsports and having the opportunity to win races and compete for championships.

“We are capable of accomplishing a lot more and it starts today.”

Elliott was scheduled to start 11th in the Daytona 500.

In locking Elliott into a long-term deal, Hendrick Motorsports now can focus on a new deal for William Byron. Team owner Rick Hendrick said earlier this week he was close on extensions for both Elliott and Byron.

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Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson are both in new deals, and Hendrick Motorsports has been dramatically improved the last two seasons. All four of its drivers made last year’s playoffs and Larson’s first championship gave Rick Hendrick back-to-back titles.

“Chase is a champion on and off the track,” Hendrick said. “His talent inside the race car is undeniable, and he’s just scratching the surface of what he can do. This is a young man who is mature beyond his years, comes from an incredible family, and is humble, hardworking and never takes anything for granted.

“As long as Chase is driving, we want him right here with Hendrick Motorsports. This is an exciting way to start the season, and we look forward to many, many more together.”

Elliott, who turned 26 in November, has been in the Hendrick organization since his freshman year of high school. He signed a development deal when he was 15 and quickly made his way into the Cup Series.

Elliott won the 2014 Xfinity Series championship and the 2020 Cup title. He has 13 career victories and qualified for the playoffs in each of his first six seasons.

He is the son of 1988 NASCAR champion Bill Elliott, who won the most popular driver award a record 16 times. Bill Elliott is known as “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville” in a nod to his small Georgia hometown, where Chase Elliott still lives despite his immense popularity.

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