Dale Earnhardt Jr. named grand marshal for 2018 Daytona 500

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A News-Journal special report that publishes Saturday taps the knowledge of current and former drivers, NASCAR officials and medical professionals to determine how far the sport has come and what lies ahead in its battle against closed head injuries.

The unexpected never occurred and the foregone conclusion is now a reality. He recently finished his final full season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series earlier this month at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

"I was humbled when I was asked to be the grand marshal of next season's Daytona 500", Earnhardt said in a statement.

"All of that stuff happened because of that fan support and so, it always comes back to fans".

Earnhardt, 43, announced in April he would retire at the end of the 2017 season, a decision prompted by recent health concerns - concussion-like symptoms sidelined him for 18 races last season - and a desire start a family with his wife, Amy.

The National Motorsports Press Association's Most Popular Driver Award is determined exclusively by a fan vote each season.

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Now retired from full-time competition in the Cup Series, Earnhardt will not be eligible for the award going forward, meaning he will fall short of the all-time record of 16 Most Popular Driver awards set by Bill Elliott. The award is based on a fan vote and sponsored by the National Motorsports Press Association.

The voting process was done by the fans with Earnhardt earning 68 percent of the votes.

NASCAR did not reveal the runner-up finisher.

All four Championship 4 drivers - Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Truex Jr. - as well as Earnhardt Jr. all made speeches during the ceremony.

"To Dale, thanks for the friendship that we've grown over the years, and of course for you converting Junior Nation into Rowdy fans", Busch said. He's just going to be around in different capacities.

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