Most Popular Driver award

Chase Elliott wins Cup Most Popular Driver award

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Chase Elliott was selected as the NMPA Most Popular Driver in a fan vote announced during Thursday’s NASCAR Awards show.

It is the second consecutive victory for Elliott in the category.

“Honored to have two,” Elliott said on stage. “It’s really more than a trophy or award. It is about the people you see at the race track.”

Completing the top five in balloting: Kyle Busch, Matt DiBenedetto, Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Blaney.

It is the 29th consecutive year that either an Elliott or Earnhardt has won the award. Bill Elliott won the award 16 times.

“To have 18 awards going back to Dawsonville is, I think, pretty cool,” Elliott said of the Most Popular Driver awards he and his father have won. “Obviously, I think a lot of that is due to him and his career and what he and his family built. It’s certainly isn’t all me and what I’ve done. I haven’t done anything … compared to what they did.”

The last driver not named Elliott or Earnhardt to win this award was Darrell Waltrip in 1990.

Other award winners included:

The Bill France Award of Excellence, an award that is not given every year, was presented to car owner Joe Gibbs for his signifiant contribution to the sport.

The NMPA Myers Brothers Award for outstanding contribution to the sport was presented to Darrell Waltrip.

The Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award is Joe Vaughn, who has volunteered for nearly two decades, raising both awareness and funds on behalf of the Project HOPE Foundation, based in Greenville, South Carolina. The foundation’s mission is to provide a lifespan of services to the autism community to help families, open minds, promote inclusion and expand potential.

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.”

Report: Dale Earnhardt Jr. still has ‘respect’ for Kevin Harvick despite ‘hurtful’ comments on popularity

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. said comments made by Kevin Harvick stating Earnhardt’s popularity negatively impacted the growth of NASCAR were “hurtful” but that he still has “respect” for the Stewart-Haas Racing driver.

Earnhardt shared his thoughts with media including ESPN and Autoweek following the unveiling of Chevrolet’s 2018 Cup car.

Earnhardt was responding to what Harvick said Tuesday night on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show “Happy Hours,” stating he believed the Hendrick Motorsports driver “had a big part in stunting the growth of NASCAR.”

Harvick also said it was “confusing” how Earnhardt, the 14-time most popular driver, had a larger following than seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson.

“(Earnhardt) hasn’t been anywhere close to being our most successful driver,” Harvick said. “For me I believe Dale Jr. has had a big part in stunting the growth of NASCAR because he’s got these legions of fans, this huge outreach of being able to reach these places none of us have the possibility to reach. But he’s won nine races in 10 years at Hendrick Motorsports and hasn’t been able to reach outside of that. I know those aren’t the most popular comments but those are real life facts that you look up and see on the stat sheet.”

Earnhardt refuted Harvick’s belief that he has played any part in harming the state of NASCAR, which he has competed in since 1996 in the Xfinity Series and full-time since 1998.

“I certainly hope that’s not the case,” Earnhardt said “I put a lot into this sport, and I know that I might not have met everyone’s expectations, but I certainly exceeded my own and I’m super proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish.”

Harvick and Earnhardt have a recent professional relationship after Harvick competed in 34 Xfinity Series races for JR Motorsports from 2014-16 and won six races.

Elliott Sadler, Tyler Reddick named Most Popular Driver in Xfinity, Truck Series

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At the Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series awards banquet at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel, the Most Popular Driver award for each series were given out.

As voted on by fans, the Xfinity Series’ award was won by Elliott Sadler. The Camping World Truck Series’ award was given to Tyler Reddick.

Sadler, driver of JR Motorsports No. 1 car, was one of the Championship 4 drivers in the inaugural Xfinity Chase. The 41-year-old driver finished second in the standings to Daniel Suarez. Sadler ended his eighth full-time Xfinity season with three wins, 14 top fives and 29 top 10s.

Tyler Reddick receives the award after his third season in the Truck Series and his second with Brad Keselowski Racing. Redick didn’t qualify for the Truck Chase, but earned his third career win during the Chase at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Reddick will drive for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Xfinity Series next season.

NMPA Sprint Most Popular Driver Award voting opens on Sunday

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Voting for the NMPA Sprint Most Popular Driver Award will open Sunday, Sept. 4 at 12 a.m. ET.

The award, which is voted on by the fans, has been presented annually since 1953. It has been sponsored by Sprint since 2014 and is administered by the National Motorsports Press Association.

Voting will run from Sept. 4 until 11:59 p.m. ET on Sunday, Nov. 20.

Drivers eligible for the award are those who have declared for 2016 Sprint Cup Series points.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., the 13-time and defending winner, remains eligible for the award even though he will miss the remainder of the season due to a concussion. NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott holds the record with 16 Most Popular Driver awards.

The winner of the 2016 Most Popular Driver award will be announced during the Sprint Cup Series awards banquet on Dec. 2 in Las Vegas. A $10,000 donation will be made to the winner’s choice of charity on behalf of the NMPA.

Fans can vote at mostpopulardriver.com or on the NASCAR MOBILE app.

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