No surprise: Dale Earnhardt Jr. named Most Popular Driver yet again

 As fully expected by pretty much everyone in attendance and watching on television, Dale Earnhardt Jr. captured the honor for the 13th consecutive year. Only NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott has won the award more times than Earnhardt Jr., having earned it a record 16 times. Elliott, in fact, was the last driver besides Earnhardt Jr. to win the award, having done so in 2002.
Dale Earnhardt jr and Amy Reimann
Dale Earnhardt jr and Amy Reimann

As always, Earnhardt thanked the many fans who voted for him — most of whom no doubt are proud, card-carrying members of Junior Nation.”I’m humbled,” he said. “This award is for Junior Nation.”

It helped that for the second season in a row that Earnhardt and his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team gave his fans plenty to cheer about. He won three times, including in the spring at Talladega, where he went to Victory Lane for the sixth time in his career but for the first time since 2004. Working with first-year Cup crew chief Greg Ives, Earnhardt also won at Daytona in July and at Phoenix just last month.

Earnhardt ended up 12th in the final points standings after getting eliminated from the Chase for the Sprint Cup. But his total of seven wins over the last two seasons nonetheless seems to have re-energized both the driver and his obviously massive fan base.

It was after his win in the Daytona 500 in February 2014 that Earnhardt joined Twitter, with his first tweet a photo he snapped of himself in Victory Lane at Daytona International Speedway. He now has more than 1.17 million followers — up from 800,000 at the time of the end-of-season banquet a year ago and yet another sign of his seemingly ever-expanding popularity.

Earnhardt closed his brief speech Friday by displaying his wry sense of humor, joking with Joey Logano about how the crowd cheered after Matt Kenseth wrecked Logano at Martinsville Speedway during the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

“I never take this award for granted,” Earnhardt said. “There was that one time during the year when I thought Matt Kenseth had it wrapped up. Y’all saw the grandstands at Martinsville! I’m sorry, Joey, that’s mean.”

True to form, he then thanked Logano for recently making a $10,000 donation to the Dale Earnhardt Jr. Foundation, after the good-natured Earnhardt gave the beleagured Logano a plane ride to the race at Phoenix last month.

“Joey’s a really nice guy. He needed a ride to Phoenix, so he called me up,” Earnhardt said. “He was in a bind. I let him on the plane and took him to Phoenix, and Monday morning he had a $10,000 donation (made) to our foundation. So, that says a lot about Joey Logano.

“But in all seriousness, I’m humbled by this award.”