Dale Jr. voted 1st Quarter winner of Driver of the Year Award

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s strong start to the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship has earned him top honors for the First Quarter of the 2014 Driver of the Year award.

Earnhardt netted seven first-place votes and 88 points under the DOTY points system from a panel of American broadcasters and journalists.

Fellow Sprint Cup driver Kevin Harvick and Verizon IndyCar Series championship leader Will Power tied for second with 80 points, but Harvick had more first-place votes (five) than Power (three).

Nationwide Series star Chase Elliott – who drives for Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports squad – earned one first-place vote and finished fourth with 37 points.

“I’m pretty blown away that we’ve won the First Quarter 2014 Driver of the Year Award,” Earnhardt said in a statement. “It’s an honor and really humbling to be chosen.

“The members that vote on this award are a credible group, and it’s an award that’s meant a lot to different drivers. It’s one that I’m proud to have been voted for.”

Junior could become the third winner’s son to claim the annual DOTY award. His father, seven-time Sprint Cup champ Dale Earnhardt Sr., claimed the annual DOTY in 1987 and 1994.

Other father-son DOTY winners include Al Unser Sr. (1970) and Al Unser Jr. (1990), as well as Mario Andretti (1967, 1978, 1984) and Michael Andretti (1991).

“Dale and his crew chief, Steve Letarte, are in the groove,” said DOTY president Barry Schmoyer. “It wouldn’t surprise me to see them at the Sprint Cup Championship table later this year.”

Outside of a DNF at Texas Motor Speedway, Earnhardt’s season so far has been solid.

He started his 2014 campaign with his second victory in the Daytona 500, which effectively locked him into the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Additionally, he has claimed three runner-up finishes at Phoenix, Las Vegas and Darlington.

Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

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We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.