Four months ago, the racing world was looking at Daytona with eager anticipation, waiting to see who would hoist the most prized race trophy of the season. Since Jeff Gordon’s victory at the famed track, there have been many stories that have made 2005 a season to remember. Impending retirements, new rules and templates, substance abuse, caution laps, and surprises with the sport’s top names are just some of the stories that have popped up this season.
But this time around at Daytona, the racing world has shifted its attention to Silly Season and the Chase for the Championship. The second half of the season may provide some of the greatest and most surprising events in NASCAR history. While it is entirely impossible to predict who will be where when the season ends in Homestead, predicting the events ahead is open for plenty of interpretation. It doesn’t take a NASCAR expert to see who is having a stellar season, and who cannot wait for the off-season.
This weekend, three drivers are in need of a big win to begin turning their seasons around. Dale Earnhardt, Junior and Jeff Gordon have been the drivers to watch at superspeedways, and both drivers need to win this weekend to stop their downfall and return to contention for a place in the Chase. And with only one top five finish to his name this season, Matt Kenseth has yet to live up to the consistency fans have come to expect from him. A
strong run this weekend would place a positive outlook on the rest of 2005 and place him closer to a spot in the Chase for the Championship.
The second half will also provide us with some major changes for 2006, as Silly Season hits high gear with all eyes focused on the 2 and 6 cars. In regards to the retirements of Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin, I am confident that both will win a race and make the Chase for the Championship. To see either driver win the championship is a long shot, as there are several others who have had a much more consistent and successful season. As for their replacements, there are far too many fish in the sea to select from, and any prediction is nothing more than a shot in the dark. Sterling Marlin will most likely be piloting the 6 car next season, while Penske may be looking for a much younger driver to cash in on the "young gun" craze. It seems as if Casey Mears would be the only Nextel Cup driver who would fill Rusty’s seat, so if Mears does not fill the position, look for a driver to move up from the Busch or Truck series. And while Brian Vickers may have a few strong runs left in him this season (he may even break into the win column) don’t expect him to return to the 25 car for 2006. He is a competent racecar driver; however, the 25 car has never had an exceptional season, and is in dire need of one.
As far as other predcitions go, Jeff Burton will remain under the radar for now, but will be one of the drivers in the Chase for the Championship. He has completed 96.8% of the laps this season, and needs a strong finish in the championship standings. Also, if the mechanical and engine troubles can be solved within his team, Robby Gordon is capable of many good runs. I’m expecting to see his name in the winner’s column at Watkins Glen this August. On the other hand, it is very likely that Bobby Hamilton, Jr. will be leaving the Tide ride to race for his father, and if Scott Riggs cannot find success on the track, he’ll find himself sponsorless in Cup for 2006.
All in all, the second half of the season is shaping up to be an
unpredictable battle of epic proportions throughout Nextel Cup. It’ll be interesting to see what will happen next.
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