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

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.