At a time when silly season is at its height and the Chase for the Championship is only four weeks away, it is a safe assumption that the only concerns regarding 2006 are driver and team changes. Many years from now, next season will be known for the interim drivers racing in high quality rides and the new rules and templates that will alter the sport entirely.
The biggest problem regarding next season is that of interim drivers. Currently, Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray cannot change teams until 2007. Penske and Roush Racing have two high quality rides available and no driver to race them next season. This means that two drivers will experience a high point in their career next season when they pilot these legendary cars, just to become unemployed at the end of the season.
If Mark Martin continues his Nextel Cup career, what impact will it have on the sport? The fans will know that he is simply filling a seat for a younger driver, so how will they react to a driver who has postponed retirement simply to help the team prepare for a young gun?
Penske is facing a similar problem, with no driver to replace veteran Rusty Wallace at seasons end. With Kurt Busch signed for 2007 and Rusty expressing no interest to race next season, it is likely that the No. 2 car will see little success next season. After all, how much success can a team have when there is no future for the driver with the team?
Next season will mark the first season for many new cars, including a third car at Evernham Motorsports and the new Hall of Fame Motorsports. Rumors are circulating that Wood Brothers Racing is looking to expand to a multi-car team as well. There will be several rides available in 2006, with few high quality drivers to pilot them.
Furthermore, every manufacturer has announced new templates for 2006. If history is any indication, the teams will struggle in 2006. For example, at the start of this season, Dodge unveiled the new Charger and since then has only scored two victories.
Several courses of action need to be taken so that the 2006 season will be a season to remember. First, the teams need to understand the feelings of their drivers and release them from their contracts. McMurray and Busch need to be with their new teams next season.
Also, NASCAR should allow more test dates for the teams to become familiar with the new designs and templates. More test dates will allow drivers to become used to the new templates and will allow for better racing during events.
Most importantly, NASCAR needs to do whatever it takes to maintain fan support. There will be new teams and drivers racing next season, and there will be a large void left in the sport when Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin are not contending for the championship. The 2006 season will be one with many new changes and many new faces in the Nextel Cup garage, and only time will tell if fans are willing to accept these changes or if 2006 will quickly become a season to forget.
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