There is little doubt Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the most popular driver in NASCAR, but that was made official again Thursday as he earned his ninth consecutive NASCAR NMPA Most Popular Driver Award.
This year, Earnhardt Jr. beat out Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart after more than 1.5 million votes were cast online.
"It's an honor to win this award for the ninth year," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I'm glad they didn't take the vote solely on the last race, because it would have gone to that man right there, Tony Stewart."
Earnhardt Jr. congratulated his fans for the award, calling it a "badge of honor" for them as well as him.
"Their efforts allow me to be here today to accept it," he said. "I don't only want to thank them, but congratulate them on winning the ninth consecutive Most Popular Driver Award. It's a privilege to compete in front of millions of fans every week. The credit goes to them all for the success this sport has had since its beginnings."
The award moves Earnhardt Jr. into elite company, now one away from tying Bill Elliott for the most consecutive years as the Most Popular Driver. He still has some catching up to do, however, to equal Elliott's 16 awards.
Past winners of the award include, Dale Earnhardt Sr., Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison, David Pearson, Richard Petty, and others. Curtis Turner was named the inaugural Most Popular Driver in 1956.