Voting for the NASCAR National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) Most Popular Driver Award is underway and for the first time in the last ten years, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will have some serious competition for the coveted title and he will have to do it against someone who knows a thing or two about fan approval.
Having already won the most popular nod in the Nationwide Series last year, Danica Patrick will be running full time in NASCAR’s top series in 2013, her first year of eligibility. She should get an initial bump from her Daytona 500 success where she became the first woman to earn a Sprint Cup pole, lead a lap in the Great American Race and finish in the top-10 where she ended up eighth.
Patrick, 30, had a run from 2005-10 as the most popular in the IndyCar Series and was also that series’ Rookie of the Year in the 2005. She is eligible for rookie honors this year in Sprint Cup.
Earnhardt Jr. is tied Bill Elliott with ten consecutive wins and is looking to continue his march at the overall record “Awesome Bill” owns at 16.
"Dale Jr.'s fans have really staked a claim on this award for the past decade, but the vote could get interesting this year," said Kenny Bruce, president of the NMPA. "We've had some close competitions in the past, so there are actually multiple drivers who could break the streak, and Danica is certainly one of them."
The NMPA Most Popular Driver distinction has been awarded every year since 1956. At one time, the contest was decided by a poll among drivers, taken at the end of the racing season. Later, members of the media determined the winner. Today, race fans from all over the world make the ultimate decision.
Fans can visit www.MostPopularDriver.com and vote once a day for their favorite NASCAR Sprint Cup driver among the 39 eligible. All 39 will remain eligible for voting throughout the entire Sprint Cup Series season. Voting will conclude November 17 at 11:59 PM ET after the season's final race at Homestead Miami (Fla.) Speedway. The winner will be announced at the NASCAR NMPA Myers Brothers Luncheon in December.