LAS VEGAS -- For one final year, Dale Earnhardt Jr. once again garnered the fan vote to earn the award of the most popular driver in the NASCAR Cup Series.
At Thursday evening's 2017 awards banquet, the driver was named the National Motorsports Press Association Most Popular Driver -- an award he has now been presented with 15 consecutive years.
Earnhardt's 15 consecutive wins mark the longest streak since the award was first presented in 1953. Bill Elliott -- Chase Elliott's father -- holds the record for all-time Most Popular Driver honors with 16.
However, this year, Earnhardt was asked to stay on stage as a second award was handed to him -- the Bill France Award of Excellence.
“It’s a real honor," Earnhardt said of receiving both awards. "I always tell people all the time, all I wanted to do in racing was pay my bills and be able to race for a long time and just enjoy being a part of the sport. I didn’t know whether I’d win races or have the opportunity to win championships, I just wanted to be in it and be involved in it."
The awards cap off Earnhardt's final full-time season in the NASCAR Cup Series, bringing to an end an 18-year NASCAR Cup Series career.
And for 15 of those years, an award based solely on fan votes elevated Earnhardt to the favorite of the field.
In his acceptance speech, Earnhardt recognized his fans for their part in his successful career.
"I’ve got to thank the fans because without them, none of the opportunities I’ve ever had in racing would have happened – our partnerships with corporate America, the opportunities to drive for some of the greatest teams in the sport, the opportunities to do MTV Cribs, late-night shows and TV cameos – all those things happen because of that fan support and so, it always comes back to the fans. I have to thank them for helping this train stay on the tracks and keep going all these years.
And at the end of the day, Earnhardt is just trying to take it all in.
"With all these things that are happening to you, you’ll go back home and wish you could have celebrated a little harder," he said. "You never get to celebrate that first win again. You never get to celebrate that first championship again. I think we just have to remind ourselves to have fun and enjoy it and when you do and have a chance to celebrate, make it good.”