Earnhardt wins most popular driver award for fifth straight year

Updated: November 30, 2007, 3:21 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Despite a year of personal upheaval and on-track failures, Dale Earnhardt Jr. remains as popular as ever.

Junior was selected the most popular driver for the fifth straight year, drawing more than 1.5 million of the over 3.8 million votes cast online. The award comes after he decided to leave the NASCAR team founded by his late father to join powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports with a new sponsor and a new car number.

"After the year I had statistically and off the track, that isn't the response I expected from my fans," Earnhardt said Thursday in accepting the honor during a luncheon at which numerous awards and hundreds of thousands of dollars were dispensed by NASCAR and its sponsors.

"Next year, I hope to earn more hardware on the track, too."

Earnhardt is moving from his signature No. 8 Dale Earnhardt Inc., Budweiser Chevrolet to a No. 88 Hendrick entry, sponsored by a couple of Pepsi products. He said he has not talked with stepmother Teresa Earnhardt, owner of DEI, since they last faced each other at a meeting during his ill-fated negotiations to stay with the family team.

But that doesn't mean he is harboring any kind of grudge about having to move on.

"I don't think it's a closed chapter," Junior said. "I don't want to sound like I'm writing her off for the rest of my life. I want to do right by myself. That's what's important right now.

"If that's something I've got time to fix down the road, then I'll fix it."

Earnhardt said he can hardly wait to join two-time reigning Nextel Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, four-time series champion Jeff Gordon and Casey Mears at Hendrick.

"Yeah, I want to start now," he said. "I want to race tomorrow, the Daytona 500. Let's skip all the testing and race the Daytona 500 right now."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press