Familiar faces prevailed as the 2023 National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) Most Popular Driver Award presented by Hooters was earned by Chase Elliott in the NASCAR Cup Series, Justin Allgaier in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Hailie Deegan in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Thursday evening at the NASCAR Awards banquet in Nashville, Tennessee.
Elliott, 28, claims the honor in the Cup Series for a sixth consecutive year, dating back to 2018. The 2020 Cup champion is one of only five Cup drivers to win the award five times or more in NASCAR’s premier series, joining Richard Petty (8x), Bobby Allison (8x), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (15x) and Chase’s father, Bill Elliott (16x). The younger Elliott additionally won the award twice in the Xfinity Series (2014-15).
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“I don’t ever take it for granted,” Elliott said, noting that Cup Series champion Ryan Blaney and the retiring Kevin Harvick were also worthy candidates in this year’s balloting. “You know, I think it’s an easy thing to look at and to think that I would, but always grateful for the honor and always, always grateful to have the support that we’ve had. Like I said on stage, this has always been, to me, an extension of my family’s place in the sport and the success that they had over the years. The fans have been great to all of us, not just myself but my entire family. So that’s kind of how I look at it and certainly respect it and appreciate all that they do for me, and I’m looking forward to seeing folks back on the road next year.”
Elliott was seen on stage wearing a sling after having shoulder surgery roughly two weeks ago. Earlier in the day, fellow driver Denny Hamlin revealed details about the severity of his shoulder operation just eight days ago, noting that it has raised uncertainty about his status for the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum exhibition on Feb. 4.
Elliott said he felt confident that he should be ready for season-opening events in February, including the Daytona 500 on Feb. 18.
“Anytime you have surgery and you go through the process, any little setback or whatever can slow the process down, but thus far, everything has gone really well,” Elliott said. “So, you know, the way I see things today, I don’t think there’s anything that would make me think that next year would be compromised at the beginning of the season, including the Clash. So my goal is to be rehabbed and feeling good and ready to go for the Clash, and then ultimately, and more importantly, Daytona when that time rolls around, which gives you a couple more weeks, at that, But no, I feel good right now, and unless something changes, I should be totally fine.”
After winning the award for three consecutive years (2019-21), Allgaier, 37, found himself back in the Most Popular Driver award-winning column in the Xfinity circuit after Noah Gragson claimed the honor in 2022. With this achievement, a JR Motorsports pilot has won the award in the Xfinity Series for 12 consecutive years.
Deegan, 22, took home her third consecutive Most Popular Driver award in the Truck Series. Deegan became the first woman to win the award in the Truck Series in 2021 and remains the second woman to win the award all-time (Danica Patrick in the Xfinity Series in 2012).
Voting for this year’s award ran from Nov. 7 to Nov. 29.
Formed in 1965, the National Motorsports Press Association consists of qualified media members who report on the sport of auto racing through affiliations with print, radio, television and/or Internet news-gathering organizations. In addition to the NMPA Most Popular Driver Award, the NMPA presents an array of auto-racing honors, including the Richard Petty Driver of the Year Award, the Myers Brothers Award, the NMPA Pocono Spirit Award and the Wood Brothers Award of Excellence.