Chase Elliott, whose 2023 season was marked by adversity, received the National Motorsports Press Association Most Popular Driver Award for the sixth consecutive year at the NASCAR Champions Awards banquet Thursday at Music City Center.
Elliott, 28, who underwent surgery for chronic shoulder pain earlier this month, said he is on pace to be ready for the Feb. 4 start of the 2024 season, with the Clash at the Coliseum exhibition race in Los Angeles, followed by the Daytona 500 on Feb. 18.
After missing seven Cup Series races (six for injury and one for suspension) and failing to reach the playoffs, Elliott said it would not have surprised him if someone else had won the award.
"There's always a chance for anything," said Elliott, who wore a sling on his right arm. "Ryan (Blaney) has a great following and obviously with him having a great year, I thought that he would have a shot and also the same for Kevin (Harvick) finishing up his career, a great career at that. I don't ever take it for granted. I'm always grateful for the honor."
Elliott finished with seven top-five finishes and 15 top-10s in 29 starts.
The Most Popular Driver Award is one of the longest-running awards in NASCAR. It was first given out in 1953. Elliott's father, Bill, won the award 16 times.
"This has always been to me an extension of my family's place in the sport and the success they have had over the years," Chase Elliott said. "The fans have been great to all of us. Not just me but my entire family."
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Voting for the Most Popular Driver Award ended Wednesday. Along with Elliott and Blaney, Kyle Busch, Ross Chastain and Kyle Larson earned the most votes in Cup.
Justin Allgaier won the NASCAR Xfinity Series Most Popular Driver Award and Hailie Deegan won in the Craftsman Truck Series.
After Elliott received his award, Blaney was recognized for being the NASCAR Cup Series champion.
Blaney got emotional during his acceptance speech when he mentioned his father, Dave, and grandfather Lou, who also were drivers. Dave was in attendance; Lou, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2001, died in 2009.
"When I wrote (that part of the speech), I was like, 'That's going to be the one that's going to get me and I know it's going to get my dad, too,' " Blaney said. "Just talking about my grandpa, wishing he could be here with my dad to celebrate about it was probably going to get me and it did."
There was a local connection to the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway earlier in the ceremony, with William Sawalich being recognized for winning the ARCA Menards Series East championship. He also was the ARCA Menards Series East Bounty rookie of the year.
One of Sawalich's wins this season came in the All American 400 at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway on Nov. 6. At 17, he became the youngest winner in the race's 39-year history.
Reach Mike Organ at 615-259-8021 or on X @MikeOrganWriter.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Chase Elliott voted NASCAR's most popular driver for 6th straight year