Dale Earnhardt Jr. Wins Chex Most Popular Driver Award Then Shares News

Kelly CrandallSenior Writer IDecember 4, 2009

LAS VEGAS - DECEMBER 03:  NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. speaks during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champions Week NMPA Myers Brothers Awards at the Venetian Resort Hotel & Casino on December 3, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

For the seventh consecutive year Dale Earnhardt Jr. was voted the NMPA Chex Most Popular Driver award which is determined by the fans.

Earnhardt Jr. flew out to Las Vegas this morning to receive the award and thank his loyal fans.

"I take a lot of honor in it and a lot of pride. I know it's kind of a cliche, but I just wanted to be a race-car driver, wanted to be able to make a living showing up, driving cars every week and having the fan support like I have has been an incredible bonus for me," he said.

"I can't thank them enough, so I guess I'll just keep showing up."

Jr. Nation voted Earnhardt Jr. the most popular driver regardless of going winless in 2009 and finishing a disappointing 25th in points.

However, they made sure to let everyone know they still stand by their man. 

The fans though, weren't the only ones Earnhardt Jr. thanked, he made mention of his late father for what he called giving him a "hell of a gift in popularity." 

He also joked that he takes pride and makes sure to accept the award in person since he "turned in a video a few years back and learned my lesson." 

But those weren't the only words coming for Earnhardt Jr. on Thursday. 

Talking with the media afterward he made it known that he has no discussion in the Danica Patrick negotiations, that his sister Kelley is taking care of those details and that things were still being worked out. 

"I'm not in the middle of it at all...I can't help you...I didn't get involved in the Danica deal purposely," he said. 

But then he made some shocking announcements.

Earnhardt Jr. revealed that Kelly Bires, whom he hired to replace Brad Keselowski in the No. 88 Nationwide machine for 2010, may not be able to run the entire schedule because of sponsorship reasons.

The Most Popular Driver said that he's met with half a dozen drivers in search of the right sponsorship package and called it a "dire situation."

The chances of seeing the No. 88 car full-time next year "do not look very good," and it's something that he's really worried about.  

After revealing those plans Earnhardt Jr. told everyone that his sister Kelley and cousin Tony Eury Jr. have now been included as part owners in JR Motorsports with he and Rick Hendrick. 

"I will be working with Tony Jr next year," he continued, but on more than an ownership level since he says it looks likely that Eury Jr. will remain the crew chief of the No. 5 car in that series. 

Eury Jr. took over crew chief duties during the final few races of 2009 and Earnhardt Jr. will pilot the car in select events next year. 

But what everyone wanted to know, as well as the fans that just voted him their Most Popular Driver, is what will his Sprint Cup team is doing for next year to improve their performance. 

"As an entire unit, the 88 car could have been stronger. But we had some broken links some areas," he said.

He says that changes have been made in the engineering department as well as in shop personnel and shock area. 

"We didn't change the driver or the crew chief so that was good," he says. 

Now in Vegas to accept his award don't fear that he'll stay and get distracted.

Earnhardt Jr. said he flew in this morning and will be leaving right afterward to head back to North Carolina and continue preparing for the 2010 season. 


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