- David Newton, ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter
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LAS VEGAS -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. was named the Sprint Cup Series most popular driver for the ninth straight year on Thursday.
Earnhardt was seventh in the Chase this season, his best finish in six years. Although he didn't win this season, extending his winless streak to 129 consecutive races, he had more top-5 finishes and more top-10s (12) than he had in the previous two seasons, when he failed to make the Chase.
Earnhardt's string of most popular driver awards is one shy of the record held by Bill Elliott, who won it 10 straight years from 1991 through 2000. Elliott is the all-time leader in the award with 16.
Earnhardt thanked his fans, saying the award is really theirs.
"I am glad they didn't take the vote solely on the last race," Earnhardt said. "It would have gone to (Sprint Cup champion) Tony Stewart."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was named the Sprint Cup Series most popular driver for the ninth straight year on Thursday.