DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.—Chase Elliott won a popularity contest before he even won a Cup Series race.
Elliott was the overwhelming favourite to be crowned the sport's next most popular driver.
Although the actual award will be handed out in nine months, fellow NASCAR drivers polled at Daytona 500 media day yesterday expect Elliott to be a slam-dunk winner.
“I think he's already won the 2018 most popular driver award,” Hendrick Motorsports teammate and seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the award 15-consecutive years, including in 2017. But Earnhardt's retirement left the title up for grabs.
Well, sort of.
All indications are Elliott will take over the top spot—maybe even for the foreseeable future.
“I feel like he's one of the most important ingredients in what NASCAR racing does going forward because of his family name,” 2014 Cup champion Kevin Harvick said.
“He has the legacy that's already been built in this sport by his dad," Harvick noted. ”He's come into this sport with a great name and already proven that he's going to be competitive.
“He has those southeast, NASCAR ties to those core fans that none of the rest of us will ever have. He's the guy.”
Elliott is the 22-year-old son of Hall-of-Fame driver Bill Elliott. Both hail from Dawsonville, Ga.
Harvick called the younger Elliott the “biggest tie to our grassroots NASCAR fan.”
Elliott is entering his third full season at Hendrick Motorsports. He's winless in 77 career Cup starts but had 12 top-five finishes last year and five runner-ups.
“When he wins the first time, you're going to see things that you haven't seen in a long time from fan reaction and just enthusiasm about this sport,” Harvick predicted.
“And when that happens, it's going to be good for all of us.”
Johnson said Elliott is “going to be a superstar.”
Elliott took all the praise in stride, saying he appreciated “the kind words, for sure.”
But he added that “Nothing is ever for sure 'til it's for sure, right?”
Bill Elliott, nicknamed “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville,” won the most popular award 16 times in 19 years.
The late Dale Earnhardt won in 2001.
Elliott and the Earnhardts had a lock on the award since 1991.
“Why that's the case, you know, I can't answer just because I don't really know, right?” Chase Elliott said.
“But I'm going to continue to be me," he stressed. ”Hopefully we have some great support.
“If I'm not your guy, I'm not your guy," Elliott added. ”But I think I'm very appreciative of the support I've had to this point.
“Dad has had a great following over the years. I think the people that were big Bill Elliott fans, they followed me for a long time, not just since I've been in the NASCAR world,” he remarked.
“Just try to keep doing my thing. We'll see as the season unfolds down the road.”