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Thursday, November 30, 2006

The other 33: 2006 Season

11: Tony Stewart (5 wins, 15 top 5’s, 19 top tens). Second in wins, tied for first in top tens, but too many poor finishes this summer cost him a chance at the Chase. An obvious title favorite next year.

12: Carl Edwards (0,10,20) As charmed as his 2005 was, 2006 was the complete opposite. Roush was missing something this year and Edwards' frustration seemed to surface. Hard crashes, confrontations with other drivers and crew chief changes all combined for a cocktail of disappointment.

13: Greg Biffle (2, 8,15). Highlight: Repeating at Darlingon in May. Remember at the beginning of the season, everyone kept waiting for Biffle to put it together? It never really happened and crew chief Doug Richert took the fall. Next year will be very interesting.

14: Casey Mears (0,2,8). At least he finally won a Nascar race, albeit a Busch Series race. Mears began 2006 with three top tens and didn’t his fourth until the fifteenth race. He now leaves a 14th place ride for a 15th place ride.

15: Brian Vickers (1,5,9). Vickers can't get a break. Red Bull hires him for next year so Hendrick locks him out of meetings. He finally wins a race, but at the expense of a teammate. Aside from his win, his numbers are practically identical to 2005. It will be a major feat to match them in '07.

16: Kurt Busch (1,7,12) Someone at Penske secretly switched Ryan Newman's cars with Busch's. Only one win but six poles in his first year in the #2 car ensured Miller would make the Bud Shootout. It was a pretty quiet year off the track for Busch too.

17: Clint Bowyer (0,4,11) Bowyer took full advantage of the RCR resurgence. From opening with a sixth at Daytona, Bowyer ran up front more often than not, and was the biggest surprise among the rookies.

18: Ryan Newman (0,2,7) At least last year he won six Busch races. His first full-time season without a win in either Busch or Cup. Newman and Kurt Busch are both top tier drivers, but Penske's subpar gear holds them back.

19: Martin Truex Jr-(0,2,5) Not the year expected, but he finished strong. DEI's equipment has improved since the start of the year, which really helped Truex close out the year. For context Kyle Busch was the top rookie last year at 20th.

20: Scott Riggs-(0,1,8) Riggs wins the award for most improved driver. The biggest key was finishing races. He had 24 lead lap finishes compared to 22 in his first two years combined.
21: Bobby Labonte (0,3,8) Basically the same numbers as last year (0,4,7), but in lesser equipment. Top fives and top tens don’t show the serious improvement and solid year for Petty Enterprises and Labonte. PE had 2 top tens total last year.
22: Elliott Sadler (0,1,7) Aside from the plate tracks, Sadler didn't have much to get excited about this year. A full year with Evernham should get Sadler back to the front consistently.

23: Dale Jarrett (0,1,4) Didn’t score his first top five until Kansas. Jarrett had a distracting year: moving to MWR, crew chief Slugger Labbe suspended and later released, Yates Racing struggling, Elliot Sadler moving to Evernham mid-year. Still, his UPS spots were the best ad campaign of the year.

24: Reed Sorenson (0,1,5) A pretty typical season for most rookies. He had moments of hope followed by heaps of humility and crumpled sheet metal.

25. Jamie McMurray (0,3,7) Bummer dude. As many DNF's (7) as Derrick Cope. (Full Disclosure: Cope only ran 9 races).

26. Dave Blaney (0,1,2) A top five at Richmond was the highlight for the underdog Blaney. With manufacturer support, Blaney will be the most competitive Toyota driver in '07.

27. Joe Nemechek (0,0,2) For the first time in years, Front Row Joe never threatened to win a race. He only led 10 laps all year and didn't get a top ten until the 31st race. Next year Nemechek begins with zero owners' points, making his job even tougher.

28. Jeff Green (0,0,2) For the third straight year, Green improved his points ranking by one place. Start engraving that 2033 Nextel Cup.

29. JJ Yeley (0,0,3) Why can't you be more like Denny?

30. Robby Gordon (0,1,3) Gordon had the most DNF's (9) of all drivers. Still, it was a solid step towards success for the one car outfit.

31. Ken Schrader (0,0,2) At least Schrader has some of the best sponsors. From M&M's, Schwan's, Red Baron and now Little Debbie, is it any wonder Schrader looks like he does?

32. Kyle Petty (0,0,2) Finishing in the top 35 in points was a huge boost for Petty's team.

33. David Stremme (0,0,0) He had 6 top 20's during the Chase. It doesn't sound great until you consider how terrible their year started.

34. Sterling Marlin (0,0,1) Marlin had only one top ten, fell outside the top 35 and struggled to attract sponsors. At least Stremme didn't do any better.

35. Tony Raines (0,0,1) Hall of Fame Racing just wanted to get established inside the top 35 in their first year. Raines did his part with only one DNF.

36. Travis Kvapil (0,0,0) Cal Wells and PPI go out with a whimper. Kvapil didn't have any top 15's, but his average finish (28.2) was better than Bobby Hamilton Jr last year (32.5) in the same ride.

37. Michael Waltrip (0,0,0) Sponsors obviously love Waltrip pitching their products. You know what else sponsors love? Finishing better than 30.

38. Scott Wimmer (0,0,0) A rough year for Wimmer. He has a chance to rebound next year with the top Busch program RCR.

39. Jeremy Mayfield (0,0,0) Do you think Stewart loaned Ray Evernham a Mayfield pinata?

40. Kevin LePage (0,0,0) His season high 21st at Bristol went completely unnoticed. He still lasted longer at BAM racing than Brent Sherman.

41. Terry Labonte (0,1,1,) A nice farewell season for the original Iceman. He came pretty close to winning at Sonoma and not so close at other tracks.

42. David Gilliland (0,0,0) An amazing rise for someone few had heard of before the Kentucky Busch race. His pole at Talladega gets him into the Bud Shootout where he'll have an equal car to anyone in the field.

43. Kenny Wallace (0,0,0) To make 17 races is an accomplishment for Wallace and Furniture Row Racing. No knock on Wallace, but it will be impressive if he makes 10 next year.