Voting opens for NASCAR’s most popular driver; will Dale Jr. make it 12 years in a row?

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Will Dale Earnhardt Jr. be the fan’s choice as NASCAR’s most popular driver for the 12th consecutive year?

Or might Danica Patrick, newcomer Kyle Larson, six-time (potentially soon-to-be seven time?) Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson or some other driver earn the honor of being the biggest fan favorite in racing in 2014?

We’ll find out in four months as voting began Saturday and will conclude Nov. 17 for the Sprint National Motorsports Press Association’s Most Popular Driver Award.

Now in its 62nd year of existence, the MPDA is one of the most noteworthy and popular awards because it allows racing fans a direct pipeline to show their support and loyalty to their favorite driver.

New for this season is sponsorship of the award by Sprint, which also is the sole sponsor of NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series.

For more information and to cast your vote, visit www.MostPopularDriver.com.

Here’s the fine print: Fans are allowed to cast one ballot per email address per day. Fans can also cast up to two additional votes per person per email address on social media sites Facebook or Twitter.

Eligibility is open to drivers who have declared for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship and have entered all points-paying NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events contested between Jan. 1, 2014 and July 5, 2014.

The MPDA winner will be announced during NASCAR’s Champion’s Week at the annual Myers Brothers Luncheon in Las Vegas.

“We sincerely appreciate the interest expressed by so many fans surrounding the Most Popular Driver program,” NMPA president Kenny Bruce said in a press release. “Their continued participation, passion and loyalty are the reason for the program’s amazing success and longevity.”

More than one million votes were cast in last year’s contest. Bill Elliott holds the record by being chosen MPD 16 times.

Remember, to vote, visit www.MostPopularDriver.com.

As they say in Chicago, vote early and vote often.

* Disclosure: Jerry Bonkowski is a member of the board of directors of the National Motorsports Press Association.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

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.