Earnhardt had his best season in years, snapping a four-year losing streak with his June 17 victory at Michigan. He was a strong title contender for most of the season, then missed two races during the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship with a concussion.
Because he missed the two events, he finished 12th in the final Chase standings and will not be a participant in Friday night's season-ending awards ceremony. His acceptance of the most popular driver award was his only official role in the champion's week activities, and Earnhardt admitted there were nerves to getting on stage and speaking in front of the crowd.
"But I take a lot of pride in being able to get an opportunity to tell fans how much I appreciate their support that they have, especially through everything they've been through," he said. "They go through a roller coaster of emotions season after season and they still after all this time have stuck with us, so we must be doing something right. The fans are very loyal."