|Sprint Cup Series driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. passes through fans during driver introductions before the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 race at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida on Feb. 20, 2011. (REUTERS/Pierre Ducharme)
LAS VEGAS, NV - Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s popularity in NASCAR is showing no signs of letting up.
For the ninth consecutive year, Earnhardt Jr. received the National Motorsports Press Association Wheaties Fuel Most Popular Driver Award. He was presented the trophy at the NMPA's Myers Brothers Award luncheon on Thursday in Las Vegas.
"As for the most popular driver award, I'm glad they didn't take the votes solely on the last race [Homestead], because it would have gone to Tony Stewart," Earnhardt Jr said during his acceptance speech.
Stewart will be honored for his third Sprint Cup Series championship during Friday night's NASCAR Awards Ceremony at Wynn Las Vegas. He won the season- finale at Homestead to claim the title.
Fans cast more than 1.5 million total votes throughout the 2011 season. Earnhardt Jr. beat out nine other finalists (in alphabetical order): Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Bobby Labonte and Stewart.
Earnhardt Jr. made the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship for the first time in three years. But he has not won a Cup race since June 2008 at Michigan (129 races ago). He won the pole position for this year's Daytona 500.
"I'm pretty sure my fans wear this award as a badge of honor, and they should, because the award is their's," Earnhardt Jr. added. "Their efforts allow me to be here today to accept it, so I want to not only thank them but congratulate them on winning the ninth consecutive most popular driver award."
Bill Elliott and Richard Petty are the only drivers who have won the award more times than Earnhardt Jr. Elliott took the honors a record 16 times, including 10 straight from 1991-2000. Petty received nine awards.