2006 season starts soon

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 3, 2005

With the 2005 NASCAR Nextel Cup Awards ceremony held at the Waldorf Astoria in New York this past Friday, the 2005 season is officially closed. Don’t worry, you will not withdrawals long; the 2006 season will begin in mid-February at Daytona.

This past season was a memorable one for several reasons. Driver movement has to rank right at the top. The number of new drivers in new rides isn’t that unusual, it is the quality of drivers on the move and the way that the moves were made that makes the story.

Jamie McMurray got the ball rolling back in the spring when he announced making a deal to drive the no. 6 car in 2007 for Roush Racing. I don’t think McMurray ever had the desire, nor the intention, of driving for Chip Ganassi next year, even though he was under contract for next season. Ganassi toed the line for the most of the year until finally relenting just a few weeks ago and allowed McMurray to make the move.

Just as everyone was getting over the shock of McMurray’s unusual announcement, Kurt Busch announced a similar deal with Roger Penske and the no. 2 car. Busch, the defending Nextel Cup champion, let it be known to Jack Roush that he wanted out of his contract for 2006 to make the move to Penske. Again, Roush played hard ball and said &uot;No way.&uot; At least for a while.

It seems like these situations always have a way of working themselves out, and this situation was no different. It seems that everyone is happy now and the drivers got what they wanted.

I think Jack Roush got the best of the deal. He gets Mark Martin for one more year, gets rid of headache in Busch, and gets a talented young driver in McMurray. Despite only winning once with Ganassi, I think McMurray will flourish in the newly numbered 26 car with Roush. Todd Kluever, current truck series driver and 2006 Busch series driver for Roush, also benefited from this complex series of moves. He has already been announced the driver of Martin’s no. 6 car in 2007.

At last count, there will be fifteen full time cup drivers swapping teams for the 2006 season. Among the notable: Bobby Labonte moving to Petty’s famous no. 43 car, Sterling Marlin getting the boot from Ganassi’s no. 40 car and moving to MB2 and the new no. 14 car, Michael Waltrip moving to Bill Davis and taking NAPA to the newly numbered 55 Dodge, and Casey Mears, who looked to be demoted earlier in the year, moving to the legendary Texaco ride.

It might take several races next year before everyone is comfortable with the new rides and new numbers. 2006 also looks to be a banner year for rookie drivers. The Rookie of the Year race will be highly competitive. Martin Truex, Jr., Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin, J.J. Yeley, David Stremme, Reed Sorenson, and Brent Sherman will all vie for the rookie title. That’s a pretty impressive bunch of drivers.