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CONCORD, N.C. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. was named NASCAR’s most popular driver for 15 consecutive seasons. 

Now that the former Hendrick Motorsports driver has stepped away, Jimmie Johnson is among those who believe it might be a new Hendrick Motorsports driver’s turn to take home the annual award.

Johnson didn’t hesitate when asked which young driver he thought could quickly rise to the top of the sport.

“I’m going to be very biased and say Chase Elliott,” he said. “He’s awesome, on all levels. He’s going to be a superstar.”

As for who he thinks will be the 2018 most popular driver? Johnson has no doubts about that, either. 

“I think he’s already won the 2018 most popular driver award,” he joked. 

Being NASCAR’s next most popular driver might just be in Elliott’s blood. After all, his father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, holds the overall record with 16 most popular driver wins.

His father’s popularity and the younger Elliott’s own success on the track has helped him build a loyal fanbase early in his NASCAR Cup Series career.

“Dad has had a great following over the years,” he said. “I think the people that were big Bill Elliott fans, they’ve followed me for a long time, not just since I’ve been in the NASCAR world.”

Elliott said he’s appreciative of the kind words from his teammate and other drivers, but he isn’t looking that far ahead just yet.

“Nothing is ever for sure till it’s for sure,” he said of the awards talk.

Being himself and staying focused on the upcoming season is all that’s on his mind.

“I’m going to continue to be me,” Elliott said. “Hopefully we have some great support. If I’m not your guy, I’m not your guy. But I’m very appreciative of the support I’ve had to this point.”