Dale Earnhardt Jr. had his second straight disappointing season on the track but he has not lost the adoration of his fans as Earnhardt Jr. won the voting for the NASCAR NMPA Hamburger Helper Most Popular Driver Award for the eighth consecutive time.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver was given the award during the NASCAR NMPA Myers Brothers Awards Luncheon on Thursday afternoon at the Bellagio Ballroom in Las Vegas.
Earnhardt Jr., winless in the last two years with career-worst points finishes of 25th in 2009 and 21st in 2010, is third all-time in the number of Most Popular Driver awards behind Bill Elliott (16) and Richard Petty (nine). Elliott also holds the record for most consecutive years winning the award with 10 from 1991-2000.
Although the most popular driver on the Sprint Cup circuit, Earnhardt Jr. said he never assumes he is going to win the award.
“There’s the performance factor that we’ve suffered from on the race track, there’s the new guys coming in the sport all the time, new personalities,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “Your fan base – ours is always very strong but it definitely is a living thing so it is always kind of changing and growing.
“You never take it for granted. You really don’t. I take a lot of pride in it. I get really excited about the opportunity to come here and speak about it and appreciate the fans and thank the fans. Since we aren’t winning other awards, it’s a good opportunity to get on stage and thank our partners and everybody involved, but the fans mainly.”
In some ways, winning the award for the eighth time means more than the others because the fans keep voting for him, he said.
“The first year that we won the most popular driver award, I was just blown away,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I didn’t expect it. … The fans are real loyal. I have a sense of what that’s like in the sports that I follow and the teams that I follow and the loyalty and that factor and no matter what happens, you stick with them.
“Each year that I’ve won it just means more and more.”
Fans voted throughout the regular season to determine 10 finalists. Voting throughout the Chase For The Sprint Cup determined the winner of the award, administered by the National Motorsports Press Association.
The other finalists, in alphabetical order, were Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart.
The 36-year-old Earnhardt Jr. is one of only two father-son combinations to have won the award. Earnhardt Jr.’s father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., won it in 2001, the year he died in the Daytona 500. Petty’s father, Lee, won the award in its first two years in 1953 and 1954.