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Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman leading candidates for 2018 Most Popular Driver

Chase Elliott (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR)

Chase Elliott (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR)

To the surprise of, I’m assuming, nobody, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was named the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ Most Popular Driver for the 15th-consecutive year Nov. 30 during the Cup Series Awards at Wynn Las Vegas. The guy’s been the series’ only “elected” Most Popular Driver since 203, folks.

Another drivers going to, finally, take over those reigns in 2018, as 2017 was Earnhardt Jr.’s last as a full-time Cup Series driver. and the fan-vote format doesn’t allow for write-in votes. Maybe it would be fun to ponder the possibilities for 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Most Popular Driver.

I have a feeling the award’s going to stay in the Hendrick Motorsports camp. I predict it’ll go to either Chase Elliott or Alex Bowman in 2018.

The popular prediction has been Chase Elliott, especially since his run-in with Denny Hamlin late in the 2017 season. The fan reaction to following the incident pretty much illustrated Elliott’s popularity. Maybe Elliott is the delayed heir-apparent of the award. After all, he’s the son of all-time winner Bill Elliott. Elliott has one more Cup Most Popular Driver award than Earnhardt Jr. with 16.

Some NASCAR fans outside of the Jr. Nation camp and contended for years that Earnhardt’s popularity is a product of his name, that he’s popular just because he’s the son of the late and revered Dale Earnhardt Sr. I’m sure there are other reasons, but lets go with this one, anyway.

What’s to say Chase Elliott’s detractors won’t be saying the same thing down the road, here? Maybe Elliott will pick up that Most Popular mantel and run with it. Ten years from now, will we be hearing gripes about Elliott — that he’s only popular because of his father, a.k.a. Awesome Bill from Dawsonville? It could happen.

With Bill Elliott’s record 16 awards, Earnhardt’s Jr.’s 15 and a posthumous award to Earnhardt Sr. in 2001, the last time someone outside the Elliott or Earnhardt family to win Cup Series Most Popular Driver was Darrell Waltrip in 1989 and 1990. Perhaps worth noting, Waltrip was an HMS driver during that time.

Ol’ D.W.’s two years as NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver were the only two years someone other than and Earnhardt or Elliott was the award recipient since 1983 when Bobby Allison was the winner. That ’83 season just happened to be Bill Elliott’s first full season of Cup Series competition, so really, 1984 was the first season an Elliott award could reasonably be expected.

If the award does leave the Elliott/Earnhardt joint camp, look no further than Elliott teammate and Earnhardt Jr. replacement Bowman as a likely candidate for the award.

Why Bowman? Easy.

Ties to Earnhardt Jr. do wonders for driver popularity. Just look at the parallel award in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. For the last seven years, that series’ Most Popular Driver award has gone to a JR Motorsports driver, i.e. a driver piloting a car co-owned by Earnhardt Jr. for the team carrying his name.

In 2018, Bowman will be the Cup Series driver in the best position to benefit from an Earnhardt Jr. tie. After all, he filled-in for Earnhardt Jr. at the end of the 2016 season and will be the first driver of the famed No. 88 upon Earnhardt Jr.’s retirement.

Unless Earnhardt Jr. actively and publicly campaigns for another driver to receive the award, my money’s on Chase Elliott or Bowman being voted Cup Series Most Popular Driver in 2018.

Texas Motor Speedway’s Eddie Gossage already has annointed Elliott the “People’s Champion,” for what that’s worth. And Most Popular Driver is a title determined from votes by “the people.”

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Posted by on December 6, 2017. Filed under Blog by Amanda Vincent,Featured,Monster Energy NASCAR Cup,NASCAR. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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