Chase Elliott salvages most popular driver award in worst season of his NASCAR career

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Chase Elliott overcame the worst season of his career to maintain his hold on the NASCAR most popular driver award for the sixth consecutive year.

Elliott missed seven races this season, failed to make the playoffs and wasn't required to attend Thursday night's season-ending awards ceremony at the Music City Center. But he showed to pick up the only award solely voted on by fans.

Elliott beat new NASCAR champion Ryan Blaney and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson in the voting, per results released by the National Motorsports Press Association.

Bill Elliott, father of the 2020 Cup champion and a NASCAR Hall of Famer, won the most popular driver award a record 16 times before “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville,” Georgia, removed his name from the ballot.

“Really this award, in my eyes has been a reflection and an extension of my family's place in the sport,” Elliott said. “I recognize my spot in line and recognize what they've done. The reason it is special is because of the fans and how supportive they have been to my entire family, myself included, over the years and I am so grateful for what they do for us. They've been phenomenal.”

Dale Earnhardt Sr. won the award in 2001, the year he was killed in the season-opening Daytona 500, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. then won most popular driver the next 15 years. An Elliott or Earnhardt has won NASCAR's most popular driver for 33 consecutive years.

Elliott went winless in 2023 and failed to earn a berth in the playoffs for the first time in his eight Cup seasons. He missed six races with a broken leg suffered in a snowboarding crash early in the season, and was suspended for one race for deliberately wrecking Denny Hamlin in the Coca-Cola 600.

He wound up 17th in the final Cup standings.

“Last year was rough in a lot of ways, but that's life, you learn to continue to grow and reinvent yourself in new ways,” Elliott said. "As I've continued down this journey, you start to experience things you've never experienced before and this year was one of them for me. I look at next year as an opportunity to grow and be a better driver, be a better person and come out really strong at Daytona when we start our season.

“This last year was one I'd like to forget.”

Elliott underwent shoulder surgery on Nov. 17 to repair a torn labrum. Hendrick Motorsports said he will be ready for the start of the 2024 season.

Justin Allgaier was voted most popular driver of the Xfinity Series, while Hailie Deegan won most popular of the Truck Series.

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AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing