LAS VEGAS — Dale Earnhardt Jr., grinning as he strode through a Las Vegas ballroom, seemed shocked Thursday to win NASCAR's prestigious Myers Brothers Award.
The award, presented annually since 1958, is given to a person who makes significant contributions to the sport.
"It's one thing to lead the last lap and get the checkered flag, it's one thing to swim faster, run faster, hit a ball farther, get those sort accolades for doing something phenomenal," Earnhardt said after. "But when your peers say, 'Good job' or when the people you're around all the time acknowledge something, even if it's just so minuscule, it's such a good feeling.
"That's really better than any kind of trophy for victories. It's a great feeling. I don't know that I've ever been more humbled and excited."
The award was named after short-track drivers Billy and Bobby Myers, two of NASCAR's pioneers from the 1950s. It is presented by the National Motorsports Press Association with the purpose of recognizing those that have provided outstanding contributions to the sport of stock car racing.
Earnhardt beat three other finalists — ESPN and series sponsors Nationwide and Sprint — in voting by the NMPA membership. He's the third consecutive driver to win the award, after Jeff Gordon in 2012 and Tony Stewart last season.
Stewart called the award a "huge honor" and could tell how much it meant for Earnhardt to win.
"This is your industry that's voting on this award, it's not a popularity contest award," Stewart said. "This is something where the industry sees what you've contributed to the sport and you could see it the whole time he was walking up there. That's a genuine Dale Jr. smile we saw walking up there, and that shows you what it means to him."
Earnhardt was recognized for both his participation on the track — he made the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship this season and won four races — and also for his care and concern for the history and the future of NASCAR.
He owns JR Motorsports with sister Kelley Earnhardt Miller and Sprint Cup team owner Rick Hendrick, and the organization won the Nationwide title this year with Chase Elliott. Elliott and teammate Regan Smith finished 1-2 in the standings.
Earnhardt also 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.
Late Model drivers Josh Berry and William Byron finished first and second this year 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 Late Model championship in three years for the organization.
And, Earnhardt's off-track contributions are also tremendous. He made his 235th appearance this season for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a total that ranks among the top five for all professional athletes.
The Dale Jr. Foundation also 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.
"I don't know that I've ever been more humbled and excited for Kelley and JR Motorsports. I know they're enjoying this, too," he said. "We've done a lot of good things, but this wasn't on my radar. It's just an incredible honor."