Most Popular Driver, Bill France Award of Excellence Cap Dale Jr.’s Final Season

Ron Lemasters | JR Motorsports | 12/1/2017

Awards Banquet Dale Jr. News

For the 15th—and most likely final—time, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver and was also presented the Bill France Award of Excellence last night in Las Vegas.

LAS VEGAS (Dec. 1, 2017) – For the 15th—and most likely final—time, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver.

The award was presented Thursday night during the annual NASCAR Cup Series Awards Banquet at The Wynn on the Las Vegas Strip, along with another award that is not presented every year: the Bill France Award of Excellence.

NASCAR Chairman Brian France presented the award, named for his father, to the third-generation star.

“This award is not given out every year,” France said. “It’s for the ultimate achievement and contribution in the sport they love. Sometimes it’s on the track and sometimes it’s off the track. Every once in a while, it’s both. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the recipient tonight, and he is very deserving.”

Earnhardt Jr. was stunned at the award, which was last given in 2015 to his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon upon his retirement.

“I had no idea,” Earnhardt said of receiving the recognition. “The Myers Brothers award and the Bill France Award, those are so personal and they really get your feelings. It’s an incredible feeling for someone to feel like you’re worth that acknowledgement. I’m grateful and it makes you inspired to continue to be an asset and help the sport grow.”

Earnhardt Jr. won the NMPA Most Popular Driver award for the 15th consecutive season, leaving him one short of the all-time record of 16 set by Bill Elliott. Earnhardt Jr. stepped out of full-time racing following the season finale earlier this month at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Receiving the twin awards gave Earnhardt Jr. a chance to reflect on his career.

“When all these things are happening to you, you’ll go back home and wish you could have celebrated a little harder,” he said. “When I won my first race, my dad said, ‘celebrate this.’ I know what he meant after all these years. You’ll never get to celebrate that first win again, never get to celebrate that first championship again. I think we have to remind ourselves to have fun, enjoy it and when you have the chance to celebrate, make it a good one.”

The award, which goes to the winner of an online vote and presented by the National Motorsports Press Association, has been given annually since 1953, when Lee Petty accepted the first trophy, and is the only award in the sport determined by a fan vote. This year, fans began voting in September and the tally ended on Nov. 19, the day of the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Since its debut, just 19 drivers have won Most Popular Driver. Elliott, Earnhardt Jr. and his father Dale Sr. have won the last 27 MPD awards. Earnhardt Jr. has won every year since 2003, Dale Sr. won in 2001 and Elliott from 1991 to 2001. The last time a driver not named Earnhardt or Elliott won the award was 1990, when Darrell Waltrip was the winner.

Earnhardt Jr. and his father are the second father-son driver duo to win the award. The first was Lee and Richard Petty. Lee Petty won the first two awards, in 1953 and 1954, and Richard won nine times over his career.

Only eight drivers have won more than once. Elliott and Earnhardt Jr. lead the way, followed by the Pettys (Richard with nine, Lee with two). Other multiple winners include Bobby Allison with six, and David Pearson, Waltrip and Fred Lorenzen with two each.