At the beginning of the season, when Danica Patrick prepared to embark on a full Sprint Cup Series campaign, it was thought by many that perhaps she might be the one to end Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s reign as most popular driver.
That notion proved to be unfounded as Earnhardt again was named the sport's most popular driver Thursday, an award voted by fans and administered by the National Motorsports Press Association.
"We always have such great support from our fans," Earnhardt Jr. said at the Wynn Las Vegas where he accepted his award. "They always come through every year, and this year we feel like we were giving them a lot to cheer for on the race track and paying them back for all the years they've voted for us to win this award."
Despite failing to win a race, Earnhardt had a strong 2013 season. He posted five runner-up finished and ended the fifth in the standings. The driver had his best points result since 2006.
More than 1 million votes were cast, with Earnhardt receiving more than 700,000 votes. And somewhat surprisingly, Patrick was not Earnhardt's toughest challenger. Finishing second was Kasey Kahne, with Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart third and fourth, respectively. Patrick placed fifth overall.
It was the 11th-straight year Earnhardt won, breaking a record he shared with Bill Elliot for most consecutive wins. Elliott, however, continues to hold the record for most overall wins having been named most popular driver 16 times.
"I don't really keep track of the stats or the score, but Bill was a great driver and ambassador for the sport," Earnhardt Jr. said. "He represents the sport really well to this day, as does his son Chase, who's coming up and carrying on the family name. But, I've always looked up to Bill as a driver so it's pretty neat."