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Who will succeed Dale Earnhardt Jr. as NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver?

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After Dale Earnhardt Jr. earned NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver award the last 15 years, maybe a new category will be created for 2018: Most Popular Retired Driver Award.

He’d likely be a shoo-in.

But seriously, now that Earnhardt has won his last MPD award as an active driver, who succeeds him as the sport’s most popular driver in 2018?

Obviously, his will be very large shoes to fill, but there’s a few indicators of who may be Earnhardt Jr.’s successor in the contest, which has been in existence since 1953.

Lost in the shuffle of the announcement of this year’s award is that Earnhardt Jr. earned just over two-thirds (68 percent) of the ballots cast by fans — meaning nearly one-third of the MPD votes went to other drivers.

After Earnhardt, Ryan Blaney was the No. 2 selection for Most Popular Driver, followed by Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, seven-time Cup champ Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Larson, Danica Patrick and 2017 NASCAR Cup champ Martin Truex Jr.

Dale Jr. was asked in Las Vegas what his thoughts were about winning the award one last time.

“It was a real honor to accept it again,” Earnhardt said. “I know our fans take a ton of pride in voting for it and take a ton of pride in us winning it. It’s sort of a win for the whole fan base. It was nice to get an opportunity to thank the fans for that.”

When he won his first MPD award in 2003, it’s likely no one – especially Earnhardt – could have envisioned his popularity in the sport grow to the level it has, with millions of members of Junior Nation, not to mention winning the MPD 15 years in a row.

“When I started winning this award, it was all about the popularity of the driver,” Earnhardt said. “As I’ve gotten older, I realize the award represents the sports accessibility.

“It’s what sets us apart from other sports, makes us unique and is something we take seriously. I’ve learned over the years it’s not just a popularity award or about one individual, but it’s really about the entire fan base that cheers not only for that award, but cheers for that driver week in and week out.

“The Myers Brothers Award and Bill France Award, those type of things are so personal and really dig in there and hit your feelings. It’s an incredible feeling for someone to feel that you’re worth that acknowledgment. I’m grateful the sport feels that way and it makes you inspired to continue to be an asset and represent the sport well and help it grow. It makes you want to earn that recognition.”

Ok, so who would Junior vote for next season if he were to cast a ballot? Junior played it close to the vest, mentioning just now-former Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott as one possible candidate. It was Chase’s father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, who won the Most Popular Driver a record 16 times before Junior would win it 15 times.

“I don’t know, I think you might be surprised,” Earnhardt said of who wins it next season. “I think it’s going to be a very close battle. When I think about that, the drivers that have the opportunity to win it, also have the opportunity over the next 12 months before they get here to double, triple and quadruple their fan bases with the engagement they can create and capitalize on throughout the season.

“Chase (Elliott) obviously has a great personality and a great family history, much like I did. So that’s something he has going for him.

“But he has a lot of guys that are doing a lot of great things on social media and engaging and interacting with the fans in a lot of different ways that are going to make this a very interesting vote next year.

“I hope that it’s as appreciated by them and it’ll be fun to hear that driver, whoever he may be, try to articulate his feelings about winning that award. But it’s more than just a popularity of one guy. We tout our sport as being the most accessible sport, and that’s what this trophy and award represents, is that accessibility and engaging with the fans. Whoever does that best over the next 12 months is the guy who’s going to win because right now it’s neck-and-neck.

“With me retiring, there’s a great opportunity for a lot of these guys, the younger guys particularly, who are more social media savvy. There’s a great opportunity for them to engage fans, introduce themselves to fans, but it really comes down to their relatability and the fan’s ability to feel like they’re the next door neighbor or the guy they’re going to meet at the bar or run into at the grocery store. Whoever that guy is for them, that’s who they’ll pull for.”

Results, Xfinity point standings after Iowa

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Justin Allgaier had a career day, leading 182 laps and sweeping all three stages in his win at Iowa Speedway.

The JR Motorsports driver claimed his seventh career Xfinity win.

Allgaier was followed by Christopher Bell, Daniel Hemric, Cole Custer and Brandon Jones.

Click here for results.

Points

After his second straight finish of 28th or worse, Elliott Sadler‘s point lead after 14 races is down to a four-point advantage over Custer.

The top five is completed by Hemric (-7 points), Tyler Reddick (-31) and Bell (-3).

After his win Sunday, Allgaier is sixth in the standings, 51 points back from his JR Motorsports teammate.

Click here for the full standings.

Justin Allgaier dominates in Xfinity win at Iowa Speedway

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Justin Allgaier fended off Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell to win Sunday’s Xfinity Series race at Iowa Speedway.

Allgaier held Bell and the rest of the field at bay in a 12-lap shootout to capture his second win of the year.

The top five was completed by Daniel Hemric, Cole Custer and Brandon Jones.

Allgaier led a career-high 182 laps and swept every stage.

“We had a great car today, these guys did a fantastic job,” Allgaier told Fox Sports 1.

The JR Motorsports driver took the lead for the first time with two laps to go in Stage 1 when he passed pole-sitter Austin Cindric.

The win qualifies Allgaier for the playoffs. His first win at Dover was disqualified toward playoff contention after his car failed post-race inspection.

Bell placed second after starting from the rear. His car failed to get through qualifying inspection, resulting in him not making a qualifying attempt.

“Man, I just needed to be in front of (Allgaier)” Bell told FS1. “It was really good on the bottom in both corners. I just didn’t have enough to clear him.”

STAGE 1 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

STAGE 2 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

MORE: Race results, point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: Christopher Bell earned his fourth top-two finish of the season … Daniel Hemric claimed his fourth top-three finish in the last five races … Riley Herbst placed sixth in his series debut … Justin Haley placed 12th in his debut … Kaz Grala placed 10th for his second top 10 in four starts for Fury Race Cars … Ty Majeski finished seventh, giving Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 60 team its first top 10 of the season.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Elliott Sadler cut a tire and got into the wall late in Stage 1. He finished 28th for his second straight finish outside the top 25. He had finished in the top 10 in the first 12 races … Brandon Hightower wrecked with 17 laps to go to set up the final restart. He finished 30th.

WHAT’S NEXT: Overton’s 300 at Chicagoland Speedway at 3:30 p.m. ET on June 30 on NBCSN

Austin Cindric wins pole for Xfinity race at Iowa Speedway

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Austin Cindric won the pole for tonight’s Xfinity Series race at Iowa Speedway, claiming his first career pole.

The Team Penske driver earned the pole with a top speed of 131.409 mph.

The rookie is followed by Daniel Hemric (130.988 mph), Brandon Jones (130.836), Elliott Sadler (130.532) and Cole Custer (130.435).

“It’s huge for me, it’s a huge weight off my shoulders as well …Being so close to so many poles these last few races with these Penske guys,” Cindric told Fox Sports 2.

Kaz Grala will make his best-career start in eighth. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Riley Herbst will start ninth in his series debut.

Seven of the starting top 10 have never won a series race.

Justin Haley will start 13th. He will be followed by Shane Lee, John Hunter Nemechek, Ross Chastain, and Ty Majeski.

Christopher Bell and Ryan Reed will start from the rear after they failed to get through inspection in time to make a qualifying attempt.

The race is scheduled to start at 5:14 p.m. ET.

Click here for qualifying results.

Today’s Xfinity race at Iowa: Start time, lineup and more

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The NASCAR Xfinity Series enjoys the spotlight with the Cup Series off and no Cup drivers competing in today’s race at Iowa Speedway.

There’s a good chance of seeing a new winner for this season. Only three drivers who have won this year (Tyler Reddick at Daytona, Christopher Bell at Richmond and Justin Allgaier at Dover) are entered in today’s race.

Here are the details for today’s race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Craig Abel will give the command to start engines at 5:07 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 5:14 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 250 laps (218.75 miles) around the 0.875-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 60. Stage 2 ends on Lap 120.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 11 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 2 p.m. Qualifying is at 2:35 p.m. Driver introductions are at 4:30 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Specialist Michelle Monroe from the Iowa National Guard 34th Army will perform the anthem at 5:01 p.m.

TV/RADIO: Fox Sports 1 will broadcast the race beginning at 5 p.m. Coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 4:30 p.m. and also can be heard at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for mostly sunny skies with a high of 90 degrees and zero percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: William Byron won this race last June. Ryan Sieg was second. Tyler Reddick placed third. Ryan Preece won the July race. Kyle Benjamin was second. Brian Scott placed third.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the lineup.