Chase Elliott has replaced Dale Earnhardt Jr. as NASCAR’s most beloved athlete. Elliott was named the 2018 NASCAR Cup Series Most Popular Driver during the series awards banquet Thursday night at The Wynn Las Vegas, becoming the only driver other than Earnhardt Jr. to claim the honor in over 15 years..
“It definitely is an honor,” Elliott said in accepting the award, presented by Earnhardt Jr. “As it got a little closer, I’m glad it worked out like it did. Somebody asked me earlier about it, what would it mean? It’s always hard to say what it would mean when you don’t know. Just seeing the fire at the race track and how fired up people were to see me and my team do good throughout the season and all the hats and t-shirts, that to me is probably the biggest piece of it.”
Earnhardt Jr. was voted Most Popular Driver in the Cup Series by online fan vote for 15 consecutive seasons between 2003 and 2017, but he retired from NASCAR Cup Series competition at the end of last year. Elliott’s assumption of the Most Popular mantle keeps the title among the Elliott and Earnhardt families for a span of 28 years with Darrell Waltrip being the last outsider to win the award in 1990.
Chase Elliott’s father, 1988 Cup Series champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, holds the record of Most Popular Driver awards in NASCAR’s top series with 16, including 10 straight between 1991 and 2000. Earnhardt Jr.’s father, seven-time champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt, was named Most Popular posthumously in 2001. Bill Elliott won the award one last time in 2002 before removing himself from consideration for the yearly honor.
The Most Popular Driver in each of NASCAR’s other two national series, the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series, were announced separately on Tuesday evening, and both have ties to the Earnhardt Jr.-owned JR Motorsports race team. Elliott Sadler was named the Xfinity Series Most Popular Driver for the third consecutive year and the fourth time overall after finishing his career in 2018, keeping the award with JR Motorsports for the seventh year running. Kyle Busch Motorsports driver Noah Gragson was named 2018 Camping World Truck Series Most Popular Driver.