Top 10 NASCAR Driver of the Year 2012: 6. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Birthdate: October 10, 1974 Hometown: Kannapolis, NC Team: Hendrick Motorsports Crew chief: Steve Letarte 2012 starts: 34 Poles: 1 Wins: 1 Top 5: 10 Top 10: 20 Annual earnings: $5,165,260 Championship points: 2245 Championship position: 12th NASCAR Driver of 2011 position: 10th

The runaway favourite star of the American motorsports fans, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has also moved up in the estimation of voters since 2011 - and deservedly so. After several fallow years, he finally seemed back on song this year: he collected his first pole position for the first time in 60 races by starting from the front at Richmond, and broke the sixth-longest stretch between wins in Cup series history by finding his way back to victory lane after a four year hiatus.

He also led the points standings for two weeks this season - the first time since September 2004 - and easily made the Chase. Unfortunately, a diagnosis of concussion sidelined him for a crucial and decisive two weeks in the post-season play-offs and meant that he was unable to feature in the title battle after all, but it was still a significantly stronger season overall for NASCAR's most popular driver.

Top 10 NASCAR Driver of the Year 2012 results so far: 5. Mark Martin 6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 7. Marcos Ambrose 8. Martin Truex Jr. 9. Jeff Gordon 10. Greg Biffle