Earnhardt Jr. wins Most Popular Driver award
From Press Release December 5, 2003
2:16 PM EST (1916 GMT)
NEW YORK -- The votes are in, and race car fans across the country have named Dale Earnhardt Jr. the 2003 Grands! Biscuits NMPA NASCAR Most Popular Driver. The announcement was made Friday during the National Motorsports Press Association's (NMPA) Myers Brothers Awards Breakfast at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.
While Earnhardt Jr. finished third in the top on-track honor in major league stock car racing, he led throughout the Most Popular Driver fan balloting for the highest off-track honor in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. The driver of the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet maintained a solid first place as voting closed mid-November for the only fan-based award in professional motorsports.
"It means a ton to see the support I've received from the fans," said Earnhardt Jr. "I know that no matter how bad things have been in my life that week or if I've struggled with the race that weekend, it's always helpful to hear the cheers when I walk across the stage during driver introductions."
Earnhardt Jr.'s win also marks the first time both a son and a father have received the Most Popular Driver honor. Racing legend Dale Earnhardt won the award posthumously in 2001.
"The NASCAR fans are a smart bunch. They choose their favorite drivers based on who that driver is as a person and what they represent," Earnhardt Jr. continued. "I try to remember that every day. This means a lot to me that the fans have supported me in such a big way. It was emotional for me to have to accept this award on behalf of my dad in 2001, but it will feel a lot better being able to accept the award this year."
From the fan votes to at-track enthusiasm, it's clear Earnhardt Jr. creates excitement on the racing circuit.
"I don't think anyone is surprised Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the Grands! Biscuits NMPA NASCAR Most Popular Driver," said journalist Kenny Bruce, president of the National Motorsports Press Association. "He came close to winning a year ago, and anyone who has listened while he was introduced at races would know that the fans really seem to love him. We are grateful to all of the NASCAR fans who were part of the voting process, and we feel they made a good choice."
For the second year in a row, more than 3 million votes were cast by thousands of race fans nationwide via the Web site, www.mostpopulardriver.com
. Pillsbury Grands! Biscuits, the second-year sponsor of the award administered by the National Motorsports Press Association, has worked since voting launched with the season-opening Daytona 500 to increase fan exposure and created new ways for consumers to get involved.
"It's been a great honor for us to bring this award to the fans and recognize Dale as their favorite driver," said Annie Zipfel, marketing manager for Pillsbury Grands! Biscuits at General Mills. "We'll continue to share the excitement of this announcement with fans by posting award ceremony highlights on www.mostpopulardriver.com
. After all, the fans are really what this award is all about."
Throughout the 2003 Most Popular Driver Award voting season, Grands! Biscuits offered fans a chance to win prizes via two online sweepstakes. The first awarded one fan $1,000 and a trip for two to see the coveted award presented during NASCAR's annual awards banquet weekend in New York City. Sweepstakes prize winner and avid racing fan Faye Maxwell and her daughter Rachel, both from Texas, joined other NMPA and Grands! Biscuits representatives in New York City for the award presentation. The second offered one randomly drawn winner a trip to the Petty Driving Experience. Grands! Biscuits also promoted the award online and at-track during the voting season.
Following Earnhardt Jr., who received more than 1.3 millions votes, in the 2003 Most Popular Driver Award final standings were drivers Jeff Gordon (348,629 votes), Kevin Harvick (213,511 votes), Steve Park (152,541 votes), and Tony Stewart (142,899 votes). Rounding out the top ten in descending order of votes were Michael Waltrip, Mark Martin, Dale Jarrett, Kyle Petty and Bobby Labonte. More than 50 drivers received votes.
NASCAR's Most Popular Driver Award dates back to 1956. It began as a simple poll of the drivers and grew to incorporate all NASCAR Winston Cup competitors. Later, it included all NASCAR members. Today, it is a prestigious award voted on by racing fans nationwide.
Through the years, the voters' choices have ranged from the obvious to the surprising. Bill Elliott edged out Earnhardt Jr. to win the award in 2002. Elliott won the award 16 times before retiring his name from the Most Popular Driver Award voting at the beginning of the 2003 Winston Cup series. Richard Petty won the award nine times. Other past winners have included such notables as Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip.