Dale Earnhardt Jr. most popular

LAS VEGAS -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn't win the championship he thought was possible midway through the 2012 Sprint Cup season, but that didn't impact his popularity.

Earnhardt won NASCAR's NMPA Most Popular Driver Award for the 10th consecutive year on Thursday, tying Bill Elliott for the longest streak. He moved within six of Elliott for the all-time lead at 16.

"Aside from honesty, one of the qualities I admire the most in a person is loyalty,'' Earnhardt said after receiving the award at the Myers Brothers Luncheon. "Loyalty is a word I use quite often to describe our fans. This is a great example of loyalty.

"I'm completely humbled and honored to accept this.''

Earnhardt ended a 143-race losing streak in June with a victory at Michigan. He led the point standings for two weeks midway through the year and was top five in points for the first 25 weeks.

He finished 12th in points after having to miss two Chase races while recovering from a concussion -- his second in six weeks -- at Talladega Superspeedway. The other was suffered in a late-August test at Kansas Speedway.

Earnhardt still had one of his better seasons, finishing with 20 top-10s, one shy of his career record. He led 358 laps, 25 fewer than the three previous years combined.

The improvements from the previous season have him optimistic for 2013.

"I wish we were going to race on,'' Earnhardt said late in the season. "I'd just race on through to February and start back over again if it were up to me.

"I really enjoy being at the track and driving cars. It's been a good year, but this should be par for the course. It's been a good year, but we want to be a lot better than this. I'm not ready to stop trying to be better."