SPORTS

NASCAR: All Shook Up

2/16/2006

Getting a Grip on the ’06 NASCAR SEASON SEASON By Mike Dojc Published in the February Issue of BellTV Magazine



Getting a Grip on the ’06 NASCAR SEASON SEASON
By Mike Dojc
Published in the February Issue of BellTV Magazine

A massive vehicle shuffle has seen over a dozen top drivers on the Nextel Cup circuit swap rides. Couple this with the arrival of seven lead-footed Busch series graduates and then factor in the retirement of two of the sport’s luminaries and race fans can expect the NASCAR driver standings to be more volatile than a flaming ether soaked rag stuffed into a gas tank—at least until the smoke clears and teams adjust.

Sorely missed from the motor mayhem will be a pair of ole codgers (well…they’re both only 49), but between the two of them Rusty Wallace and Ricky Rudd have been whizzing around ovals since the dawn of speed. Wallace, the 1989 Nextel Cup champ, rolled into victory lane 55 times over his storied career and Rudd, the1977 rookie of the year, mashed his gas pedal to 23 wins, but will be remembered most as NASCAR’s iron man with his record 788 consecutive starts.

Speaking of retiring, wave good-bye to Ford’s Taurus. After winning a cool 100 Nextel Cup races Ford is dumping Taurus and debuting the Ford Fusion. As of this writing Dodge is also pondering a makeover after some teams encountered problems with the car’s aerodynamic package late last season.

Tony Stewart may be the defending Nextel Cup champion but he might just take a backseat to Jack Roush’s dream team of Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin on his farewell tour, and new edition Jamie McMurray who comes over from Chip Ganassi Racing to replace Kurt Busch. Watch your rearview Mr. Home Depot, that’s half of last year’s Chase for the Championship field chomping on your bumper. Another distraction Stewart will have in his quest to defend his title will be mentoring a pair of rookie teammates in J.J. Yeley an Denny Hamlin, part of the hottest Nextel Cup freshmen class in years.

The slew of hard charging rookies is led by two-time Busch Series champion Martin Truex Jr, who will be behind the wheel of the DEI No. 1 car. While Truex is the early favourite to run away with the Raybestos Rookie of the Year award Yeley, Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, David Stremme, Reed Sorenson and Brent Sherman will all be looking to make shock waves. A darkhorse is

If Jeff Gordon and Dale Jr. can rebound from slumps that saw two of the series biggest stars fail to qualify for last year’s ten-race playoff that will create even more intrigue. Gordon already seems on the right track. He finished strong ending up eleventh in the points standings. Earnhardt has been inconsistent since reuniting with crew chief Tony Eury Jr at the tail end of last season accruing three top-tens to go with three 40th or worse back of the pack finishes. Despite his less than stellar performance, Earnhardt collected his third straight NASCAR Most Popular Driver Award.

“This one means more to me than the others because of the kind of year we had. It's one thing to have fan support when you're riding high and winning races. It's another thing to have it during the rough times," he said.

Earnhardt is intent on turning things around. You better believe he doesn’t want to be showed up by his new teammate Truex Jr. There’s only room for one “junior” superstar at DEI.

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