Jeff Meyer · Wednesday February 1, 2006
As I sit down here to put keystrokes to keypad, it is hard to believe that this is the beginning of the 4th year of "Voices".
To be brutally honest, I’m not sure that I am ready. The NASCAR season drags on for soooo long that, by the time November rolls around, meeting a weekly deadline or two can be a real chore. Luckily, NASCAR’s off season and Iowa’s hunting season coincide perfectly, giving me plenty of time to de-NASCARize whilst sitting in a tree shivering my lugnuts off, waiting for a trophy buck to happen by. (A nice 9-pointer did happen to come along but I apparently opted to shoot at the Â¼ inch twig he was hiding behind which, I’m proud to report, I hit dead on, killing it instantly and sending my arrow in another direction. I probably write better than I hunt.)
Now it is February, the hunting season is over (much to the relief of Â¼ inch twigs everywhere) and Frontstretch editors are once again demanding "˜production’.
Since there is no one to pick on yet for doing bone headed things on the race track, I have to find something else that piques (that means to arouse curiosity, for my less sober readers. pronounced; peeks) my interest to write about while I wait for Jimmie Johnson to cause another "˜Big One’ at Daytona.
One of the biggest things I sense as we head into the 2006 season is the happiness and renewed optimism that seems to have infected a handful of veteran drivers that happen to be in the twilight of their careers. That infectious optimism could land any or all of them in Victory Lane more than once in 2006. The following is my choice for "˜People to Watch’ this season.
Bobby Labonte "" While Bobby was not necessarily unhappy with Joe Gibbs Racing, the relationship had gone on so long, you got the feeling that it was time for a change. Bobby’s move to Petty Enterprises to drive the legendary #43 can only mean great things for all involved. It would not surprise me one bit to see the 43 car take the checkers at some point this year, an event that has been long absent in the world of NASCAR.
Ken Schrader "" The move to the Wood Brothers to drive the number 21, 2006 could translate into a great year for this fun-loving veteran. While BAM racing has done a good job of hanging on to compete at the Cup level in recent years, the Wood Brothers are a notch up that will be able to hopefully provide better equipment for Kenny. Don’t be fooled, this guy knows how to drive.
Michael Waltrip "" Michael may not be in the twilight of his career, but he definitely is a veteran. Getting away from DEI, where Mikey didn’t always get the respect he deserved, seems to have lifted a weight off his shoulders. While Mikey’s stint at BDR may only be one year before he starts his own team, he just seems a lot happier. A happy driver is a good driver.
Sterling Marlin "" MB2 Motorsports just may have pulled of the coup of the year when they hired Sterling to drive the #14 Waste Management Chevy! Teamed with Joe Nemechek, these guys could surprise everyone this year. As I see it, Marlin’s motivation comes from two fronts this year, 1) #14 was the number of his late father Coo Coo and, 2) He has got to want to rub it in to Chip Ganassi and Coors for the way they insulted him and let him go.
Dave Blaney "" Another one that is not exactly in the twilight of his career, but a much underrated driver none the less. Teamed with Mikey at BDR, these guys will raise a few eyebrows through out ’06.
Dale Jarrett "" Ask anyone in the garage and no one will ever count out DJ and RYR. A new, better handling Ford Fusion along with Slugger Labbe as crew chief is just the right combo that WILL put DJ in the Chase in 2006.
Mark Martin "" It will be interesting to see how Mark will do this year. Sure, there’s the motivation of giving it one more try to secure a championship, but is that enough? Mark’s whole reason for staying was to be the one to hand over the car to McMurray, but that is not the case anymore. It is my opinion that Jack Roush is now taking advantage of Mark’s loyalty. Mark is good and will be tough to beat, but McMurray should be in the 6, Mark should be racing trucks and Todd Kluever should be in the 26.
Kurt Busch "" Again, not a long time veteran, but one that I will be watching very closely if for no other reason than I don’t like him. He is going to be so frustrated by the time the year is over that his ears will appear permanently sunburned. I don’t care what number he drives, 160,000 fans are still going to boo him twice a year at Bristol. Imagine what that will do to his ego. Should be fun to watch!
There are, of course, many other moves and acquisitions that have taken place that will make this an especially interesting year, but those are the one I will be paying more attention too.
Here’s to hoping 7 out of 8 of them"¦
Stay off the wall! (no I don’t want Kurt hurt, just in the garage a lot!)
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