Dale Earnhardt Jr. is NASCAR’s most popular driver for the 15th consecutive season.
Accepting the award Thursday night during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Awards in Las Vegas, Earnhardt put a cap on an unprecedented streak dating back to 2003. He is one of eight drivers to have won the award more than once.
The National Motorsports Press Association’s Most Popular Driver Award is determined solely by a fan vote each season.
“I got to thank the fans because without them none of the opportunities I ever had in racing would have happened,” said Earnhardt. “None of the partnerships with corporate America, none of the opportunities to drive for some of the greatest race teams in the sport, none of the opportunities to do MTV Cribs or late-night shows or TV cameos.
“All of that stuff happened because of that fan support and so, it always comes back to fans. It really does. I got to thank them for helping this train stay on the tracks and keep going all these years.”
Now retired from full-time competition in the Cup Series, Earnhardt will not be eligible for the award going forward, meaning he will fall short of the all-time record of 16 Most Popular Driver awards set by Bill Elliott. Ironically, Elliott is the last driver not named Earnhardt to have won the award (2002).
Eligibility for the award requires a driver to compete full-time in one of the three NASCAR national series.
The Most Popular Driver Award has been presented annually since 1953. Nineteen different drivers have been presented with the award at least once since that time.
Additionally, Earnhardt was presented the Bill France Award of Excellence.
“It’s a real honor. I always tell people all the time that all I wanted to be able to do in racing was be able to pay my bills and be able to race for a long time and just enjoy being a part of the sport,” he said. “I didn’t know whether I would win races or have opportunities to win championships. I just wanted to be in it, be involved in it.
“Feel lucky and fortunate to be able to do some good things inside and car and outside the car. I’ve always tried to take a lot of pride in taking the sport to new places and introducing it to new people.”