NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Chase Elliott held on to one of his NASCAR titles Thursday night when fans voted him most popular driver for the fourth consecutive year.
Elliott was both the reigning Cup champion and most popular driver this season, but he was ultimately beaten by new Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson for the Cup title. At the season-ending awards ceremony at the Music City Center, the National Press Association declared Elliott winner of the fan-decided most popular award.
“I just can't thank the fans across the country enough,” said Elliott. “I was really mind-blown on a few occasions this year of that support, and to see it firsthand, you know, I see the T-shirts and all that stuff is noticed. Looking forward to ’22 to make all those folks proud.”
Elliott began his run as NASCAR's most popular driver in 2018, the first year of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s retirement. Earnhardt had won the most popular award every year since 2003, the season Bill Elliott asked for his name to be removed from the ballot.
Elliott was beloved and voters selected “Awesome Bill From Dawsonville,” Georgia, their favorite a record 16 times. Earnhardt won it 15 times and Chase Elliott claimed the throne when Earnhardt retired.
His fourth victory was again backed by a legion of Elliott fans in their Georgia hometown, and it staved off a challenge by teammate Larson. Elliott has remained extremely popular — his fans vilify any rival who dares to tangle with Elliott — but Larson has built a strong legion of supporters in his first year driving for Hendrick.
Larson won 11 times in the Cup Series, broke Jeff Gordon's 20-year record for most laps led in a season, and won Rick Hendrick's record-extending 14th championship. Larson dethroned Elliott to claim his first Cup.
Larson couldn't knock Elliott from most popular, though, as Elliott's ardent supporters turned out even in a new voting format. The NMPA only opened voting on Nov. 9 — after Larson had already won the championship — and the brief voting period ended Dec. 1. Fans could vote once daily online or via mobile app, but votes shared on Facebook and/or Twitter counted twice.
The most popular driver award was first presented in 1949, to Curtis Turner, at the end of NASCAR’s inaugural season. The award has been administered by the NMPA and presented annually by the organization since 1983, and it is the only major NASCAR award determined solely by a fan vote.