Not that there has ever been any doubt, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. continues to be NASCAR’s most popular driver.
Earnhardt accepted his 14th consecutive NMPA Sprint Most Popular Driver award Friday night during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards in Las Vegas. The award is determined solely by fans and Earnhardt has won the title every year since 2003.
Bill Elliott is the last driver not named Earnhardt to win the award and he continues to hold the record with 16.
“I try not to think about winning or losing the Most Popular Driver Award, it’s a bit of a gift,” Earnhardt told the media after accepting the award. “Whether we win the award or not, we get a lot of great support from the fans all season long and I certainly got some extra support this year through the injury and all the stuff.”
Having declared for Sprint Cup Series points with the intention of running full-time, Earnhardt remained eligible for the award even though he missed the final 18 races of the season due to a concussion. He finished the year 32nd in points without a win.
“It was unfortunate to be in that position, but the fans were great,” Earnhardt continued. “That was an incredible motivator for me during my recovery to get healthy. Not a lot of people that go through those type of situations have that kind of support group but the fans really made a world of difference … It made the bad days better and once I started feeling good about coming back it gave me a lot of motivation to and maybe a reminder, I guess, of why I want to be back in the car.”
Presented annually since 1953, nineteen drivers have earned the honor. A $10,000 donation will be made to the charity of Earnhardt’s choice on behalf of the NMPA.