The question was to make a pitch but Kevin Harvick admitted it likely doesn’t matter how much he does because there’s only one driver who will win the NMPA Most Popular Driver Award now that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is no longer racing.
“We’re fortunate to have a great fan base, but we probably won’t win,’’ Harvick said Friday at Kansas Speedway. “I’d say the next guy that’s going to take that reign is going to be Chase Elliott. The bottom line is when you look at our sport, there is only a few guys that come through this sport that have the name, the history, the heritage of that NASCAR family and carry that through their career, and Chase is one of those guys.
“He’s done a great job of carrying himself and being competitive and doing all the things that he does … he has that family name and that history and the heritage of the hardcore NASCAR fan who are going to be the people who vote that. His dad won a few times in the Most Popular Driver and he’s the next Dale Jr.”
Bill Elliott was selected as the most popular driver a record 16 times. Earnhardt won the honor 15 consecutive years.
Harvick suggests that Chase Elliott could make a significant impact on the sport but the key is winning. Elliott, the 2014 Xfinity champion, remains winless in Cup. Saturday night’s race will be his 89th career series start. He has finished second eight times, including at Richmond last month.
“Is he going to win enough to be the megastar? At some point,” said Harvick, who is coming off his win last weekend at Dover. “He’s a star right now, but winning takes you to that next level of being a bigger star, and Chase Elliott winning is better for our sport and he’s going to be the guy that wins the Most Popular Driver, in my opinion, for the next several years. There’s nobody else that has that ties to our sport like Chase does. I can win 20 races a year and I’m never going have that tie to the sport like Chase does.”
But Harvick does have one special fan among those who cheer him. Earnhardt revealed this week on Twitter that his grandmother is a Harvick fan because Harvick took over Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s ride after his death in the 2001 Daytona 500.
“Seeing that comment from Dale Jr. and seeing the reaction from a lot of the fans is a lot of responsibility, obviously,’’ Harvick said. “It’s like I said on the (SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) show Tuesday night, when you look at the Earnhardt family in general, the legacy they have in our sport from start to finish – from Ralph to Dale Jr. on down to what happens next, it’s a major backbone of what has happened in this sport. When you look at that, I feel like I have a small part of where that changed … and where it’s going.
“So, for me, there’s a lot of pressure but also a lot of pride in that as well to try to do right, whether it’s for the family or for those old Senior fans. You want to do the right thing. I haven’t always done the right thing, but I feel as you go through the years you transition more into the right direction than what we did in the beginning, so that, to me, personally feels good.”