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Earnhardt Jr. selected 2014 Myers Brothers Award recipient

LAS VEGAS – Dale Earnhardt Jr., a champion as both a competitor and team owner, has been named the recipient of the prestigious Myers Brothers Award for 2014.

Earnhardt, 40, was chosen by a vote of the National Motorsports Press Association and presented the award during this year’s annual NASCAR NMPA Myers Brothers Awards Luncheon held at the Wynn Las Vegas.

The Myers Brothers Award is named in honor of brothers Billy and Bobby Myers, two of NASCAR’s pioneers from the 1950s. It has been presented annually since 1958 with the purpose of recognizing those that have provided outstanding contributions to the sport of stock car racing.

“I was so nervous but I’d never been more excited to give a speech,” Earnhardt Jr. said afterward. “I was so proud for myself, my sister and JR Motorsports to get this acknowledgement. You never assume to get credited or get that pat on the back but when it does happen it’s such a great feeling.

“I felt like JR Motorsports has been a great asset to the sport. I feel like we’ve done a lot of good things to help the sport. … This was kind of an acknowledgement to that – that we’re doing the right things and we need to continue with our direction.

“As an individual, I looked at the long list of people that had won this award and it’s a who’s who of the sport, the people that made the sport. To have my name in that list is overwhelming and a great honor.”

Eighth in this year’s final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings, Earnhardt qualified for the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup for the seventh time and finished the season with four victories, 12 top-five and 20 top-10 finishes.

He is a 23-time winner in Sprint Cup, twice a champion in the NASCAR Busch (now XFINITY) Series as a driver, and a three-time champion of that series as co-team owner.

But it is his care and concern for both the history and the future of the sport that has elevated the third-generation driver to being more than a successful competitor.

Along with sister Kelly Earnhardt Miller and Sprint Cup team owner Rick Hendrick, Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports organization has become a successful pipeline for grooming talent at the track as well as at the race shop.

In 2014, JR Motorsports driver Chase Elliott became the youngest driver to win the Nationwide Series championship, and is expected to make a handful of Sprint Cup starts for Hendrick Motorsports in 2015 while also defending his series title. Elliott and teammate Regan Smith finished 1-2 in the series’ points standings.

Elliott’s crew chief Greg Ives will join Earnhardt next season as crew chief for the No. 88 Sprint Cup team at HMS.

Just this week, JRM announced that Dave Elenz and Jason Burdett had been named crew chiefs for two of the organization’s three teams. Elenz previously served as an engineer on the No. 88 and 48 teams at Hendrick Motorsports while Burdett, who does have crew chief experience, was a car chief for eight seasons at HMS.

Brad Keselowski, the 2012 Sprint Cup champion, competed full-time for JRM in 2008 and ’09, finishing third in points each year. Sprint Cup competitors Aric Almirola, Danica Patrick and Cole Whitt also have driven for the team full-time, with each earning top-10 points finishes.

Fellow Sprint Cup driver Martin Truex Jr. won back-to-back Busch Series titles (2004-05) when the team was known as Chance2 Motorsports and operated in conjunction with Dale Earnhardt Inc.

“I can’t wait to go home and share this with Kelley and everybody at the shop,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I have that passion and love everything about it, I love the history, the people from the past, (and) the people we have today. I really admire all the drivers that we race against and all the people in the garage.

“But we don’t have the foundation, the foundation isn’t as effective, the race teams don’t happen and they run themselves as fluidly without Kelley, without all those people. This doesn’t happen without those guys and they do so much.”

Earnhardt Jr. isn’t attracted to only the upper levels of NASCAR competition. He is one of the few NASCAR team owners that have given back to grassroots racing by fielding full-time operations for regional short-track racing as well. He has fielded Street Stock or Late Model entries at local short tracks since starting JRM.

This season, his Late Model drivers Josh Berry and William Byron finished first and second, respectively, in the NASCAR Whelen All American Series at historic Hickory Motor Speedway. The sweep gave JRM 1-2 points finishes in both series in which it competed full-time in ’14.

It was the second LM championship in three years for the organization, as Berry won the title at Motor Mile Speedway in 2012.

Berry also made two Nationwide Series starts for JRM this season.

Earnhardt Jr.’s off-track endeavors have been just as noteworthy. This past season, he facilitated his 235th meeting through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a total that ranks among the top five for all professional athletes.

And the Dale Jr. Foundation raised a record $913,000 for distribution to 70 charities in 2014. The Foundation’s focus is to give underprivileged individuals, particularly youngsters, the resources to improve their confidence and education.

“(It was) more emotional than I anticipated it being,” he said of the honor. “Winning races is exciting, a huge thrill and you just explode inside. This was humbling; really you implode more than explode.

“It’s such a great feeling. I really appreciate our group getting acknowledged for all the hard work. I’ve felt like for years that we were doing some great things on and off the race track at JR Motorsports. This really solidifies my opinion there.”

Others receiving votes for the 2014 Myers Brothers Award were ESPN and series sponsors Sprint and Nationwide Insurance.

Waltrip brothers named fourth quarter Spirit Award winners

DARLINGTON, S.C. – Three-time NASCAR premier series champion Darrell Waltrip and younger brother Michael, a two-time winner of the Daytona 500, have been named fourth-quarter recipients of the National Motorsports Press Association Spirit Award for 2014.

The two were recognized for their annual Waltrip Brothers Charity Championship event, which raised $450,000 through a dinner, auction and golf tournament. Proceeds from the fifth annual event will benefit the Motor Racing Outreach (MRO), a non-profit organization that ministers to the needs of the families of those involved in NASCAR; Feed the Children, one of the largest U.S.-based anti-hunger organizations; and Tucker’s House, which seeks to improve the quality of life for children with disabilities that require home modifications for safety, accessibility and therapy.

Also receiving votes for the fourth quarter were the Kyle Busch Foundation and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Joey Coulter.

The NMPA Spirit Award is designed to recognize character and achievement in the face of adversity, sportsmanship and contributions to motorsports.

The Waltrips join Lynda Petty, wife of seven-time premier series champion Richard Petty, Sprint Cup Series driver Martin Truex Jr., and long-time car owner W.C. “Junie” Donlavey as this year’s quarterly award recipients.

An overall winner of the 2014 NMPA Spirit Award will be determined by a vote of the NMPA membership and announced during the association’s annual convention, scheduled for Jan. 25, 2015 in Concord, N.C.

Earnhardt Jr. named Sprint NMPA Most Popular Driver

DARLINGTON, S.C. – Dale Earnhardt Jr., winner of four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races in 2014 and eighth overall in the final points standings, has been named the 2014 recipient of the Sprint NMPA Most Popular Driver award for the series.

It is the 12th consecutive year that Earnhardt Jr., 40, has won the award. In addition to the trophy he received during this year’s season-ending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards Ceremony at the Wynn Las Vegas, Earnhardt will collect a check for $10,000 earmarked for the charity of his choice.

Completing the top 10 in total votes for this year’s award were (listed alphabetically): Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Danica Patrick, Tony Stewart and Josh Wise.

The MPD award, sponsored by Sprint and overseen by the National Motorsports Press Association, is the only NASCAR award determined solely by fan vote. It has been awarded annually since 1953.

Beginning in July, fans were able to vote once daily by visiting www.sprint.com/speed. Those who chose to share their votes via social media (Facebook, Twitter) were allowed one additional vote during each 24-hour window.

Additionally, fans were able to cast votes for their favorite driver by visiting the Sprint Experience at the track during NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race weekends throughout the year.

Bill Elliott holds the record for most MPD awards, winning the fan vote 16 times during a career that spanned 37 years.

Andretti, Evernham, Waid inducted into NMPA Hall of Fame

Mario Andretti, the only driver to win the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500 and the Formula One world championship, headlines this year’s class of inductees for the National Motorsports Press Association NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Joining Andretti are Ray Evernham, a championship-winning crew chief and former NASCAR team owner, and award-winning journalist Steve Waid.

The three were officially inducted into the Hall Saturday evening during ceremonies held in Concord, N.C.

Andretti won four Indy car championships (1965, ’66, ’69, ’84) and the Indianapolis 500 in 1969. He is a 12-time winner in F1, and captured that series’ title in ’78.

While his NASCAR endeavors were limited – he made only 14 starts between 1966 and ’69 – Andretti was a winner in stock cars as well. His ’67 Daytona 500 victory came while driving for the legendary Holman-Moody team.

Between 1993 and ’99 Evernham won three NASCAR Cup titles and 47 races while paired with driver Jeff Gordon at Hendrick Motorsports. He twice guided Gordon to wins in the Daytona 500 and in 1994 the team captured the inaugural Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Evernham left Hendrick to become a team owner following the ’99 season, and helped Dodge return to the sport in 2001. His Evernham Motorsports organization fielded cars for six drivers between ’01 and ’07 – including former Cup champion Bill Elliott and Kasey Kahne.

Waid, a former president of the NMPA, has covered NASCAR for more than four decades. He is a former winner of the organization’s George Cunningham Writer of the Year award and in 1989 was presented the Henry T. McLemore Award for distinguished service in the field of motorsports journalism.

Waid and fellow Hall of Fame member Tom Higgins co-authored the biography “Junior Johnson – Brave in Life,” detailing the life and times of one of NASCAR’s most popular figures.

Andretti was named on 80 percent of the ballots cast by the NMPA membership, Evernham 75 percent and Waid 67 percent.

Receiving votes but not named on the required 65 percent minimum for induction were team owner Joe Gibbs and former Busch Series competitor L.D. Ottinger.

The NMPA Hall of Fame is located on the grounds of Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. The first class was inducted in 1965, and this year’s group brings its membership total to 94.