Thomas Bowles · Sunday October 30, 2005
What if? It’s a question asked all the time in our daily lives. What if you hadn’t got stuck behind that slow car on the way to work this morning? You’d probably have made it in on time. What if Roger Clemens hadn’t gotten injured during the World Series? Houston might have won instead of Chicago. And what if NASCAR was silly enough to hold a race on Super Bowl Sunday? Would anybody watch?
It’s that type of questioning and daydreaming of what could be that makes life entertaining. And in light of a Silly Season that’s rapidly approaching a level of changes beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, it’s definitely worthwhile to dig deep into the minds of the fans and try and pull out those Silly Season wishes most people are hoping for, but don’t seem all that likely to happen even in a season of incredible change. It’s the moves you want, but you can never seem to get…although, who knows? Maybe the drivers and car owners mentioned will read this column, rethink their plans, and turn dreams into reality.
SILLY SEASON FANTASIES FOR 2006
Ward Burton reuniting with Bill Davis Racing. For some, the memory of the 2002 Daytona 500 still sticks out like a sore thumb. But Sterling Marlin’s personal red flag repair turned out to be exactly the break one soft-spoken Virginia driver named Ward needed to claim his first victory in the Great American Race. For the older Burton brother, that was the peak of a career with Bill Davis that saw him win five races in nine seasons, with two Top 10 finishes in the points. But after that Daytona magic, the team slowly fell from grace both on the track and in the standings, and by the end of 2003 Burton was out at BDR, as the veteran was pushed aside for up-and-coming “young gun” Scott Wimmer.
But after two seasons of mediocrity, Wimmer is out, and the door is wide open for a veteran to slide back into BDR’s flagship car. With Davis’ second team finally being revived full-time with NAPA and Michael Waltrip, whoever inherits the 22 ride in 2006 will most certainly be part of a team on the upswing.
But who better to lead that upswing than Burton? His unique Southern down-home twang has always been the perfect fit to promote Caterpillar’s equipment for the blue-collar worker, and since leaving Davis he’s been unable to find that perfect ride he covets in the face of younger drivers and sponsors turning their back on him. Both he and Davis have grown from their mistakes, and know from experience that when the chemistry’s right, the CAT car can get to Victory Lane—- with Ward inside it.
Aren’t you itching to listen to another sentence out of Ward’s mouth by throwing the tape in slow motion to figure out what he actually says? That’s right, I thought so. BDR, please bring back Ward! Because if you don’t, I’m beginning to wonder who will.
Ricky Rudd going back to the Texaco Havoline colors to finish his career. Certainly, the face of Texaco Havoline through the years has not only been associated with Robert Yates, but legendary NASCAR drivers Ernie Irvan and Davey Allison, the main drivers for the famed 28 car for most of the late 1980s and 1990s.
But after Allison’s death and Irvan’s departure from the 28, NASCAR’s “Iron Man” Ricky Rudd made sure to etch his name on the Texaco banner. The win total wasn’t as high and his personality wasn’t as flashy, but Rudd came awfully close to winning the first championship for that 28 car back in 2001, ultimately losing the battle to Jeff Gordon by fading late in the season. Rudd’s tenure at Yates ended abruptly after just three years on the job in 2002, with off-track arguments and lack of team chemistry eroding an effort that was briefly one of the strongest on the Cup circuit.
But the yelling and screaming between Rudd and then-crew chief Michael McSwain has died down, and the two have reunited at the Wood Brothers to produce some of the best runs possible from what’s technically a single-car team. The only thing is, that single-car label has kept Rudd out of serious contention for the Chase for the Championship, as well as some more wins to add to his resume…and time’s now running out on an illustrious career.
With that said, wouldn’t it be amazing that in the era of the “young gun,” Texaco would spurn a younger driver and take Ricky back for one final year driving for Chip Ganassi? The move makes sense for all involved; Ganassi needs a proven veteran to lead his stable of young drivers, and Rudd deserves one final shot at that long-coveted Nextel Cup title he’s failed to capture in 30 years at NASCAR’s top level. Plus, if McSwain can come along for the ride, you’ve got one of the best driver-crew chief combinations in the business inheriting equipment that’s capable of winning races week in, week out no matter who’s driving it. Now THAT’s a recipe for a dangerous combination.
Terry Labonte ending his career with a Texas team—- Hall of Fame Racing.
It’s not like Texas Terry is itching to get back into the full-time grind of Nextel Cup, after scaling back his schedule following the 2004 season. But with only a 10-race farewell tour on tap for 2006, it just doesn’t seem right for one of NASCAR’s most consistent points performing drivers to be ending his career without a shot at making a system seemingly designed for him—- the Nextel Cup Chase for the Championship.
Hall of Fame Racing would be a new car team Terry’d be driving for, but Joe Gibbs Racing is giving owners Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman the equipment and the know-how to get the job done right out of the box. Not only would Terry go out with a Texas-affiliated team and sponsor in Texas Instruments, but he’d have the backing and support of an entire team as their #1 driver—- something he never really got a chance to be a part of being Jeff Gordon’s right-hand veteran during all of his Hendrick career.
Lastly, the elder Labonte would have one more shot at the race that’s always eluded him—- winless one Sunday in February at Daytona, he could stroll into Florida with a champion’s provisional in hand, allowing him to spend two weeks of practice in getting a car prepped and polished to the point where it’s capable of contending for the win at the 500. He may want to go fishin’, but you know how many people out there want Terry to go racin’...every week for one final year.
Bill Elliott & Rusty Wallace Attempting One Last Daytona 500.
Speaking of the Great American Race, hasn’t it been weird to watch Bill Elliott run a limited schedule, but not be a part of the biggest race of the year? This is a man who not only shattered Daytona 500 qualifying records, but remains a former 500 champion, taking the checkered flag in 1987 while driving the legendary red Coors #9 for Harry Melling.
The red remains, but the Coors on the side has changed to Evernham Dodge, with the hair and the man showing gray around the edges of his reddish complexion. But Elliott can still get the job done, as evidenced by his strong runs in the Busch Series this season and his 11th place run at Michigan in a Nextel Cup car. Convincing him to run the 500 again would be quite a task, but with a champion’s provisional and Evernham support to fall back on, Elliott would at least assure himself of being in the race, and then with his driving skill, who knows? The current record between Daytona wins certainly is far less than 19 years; Elliott would be charting in uncharted territory, but the initial Winston Million winner is used to breaking ground on new things.
Lastly, you can’t forget retiring veteran Rusty Wallace. Love him or hate him, everybody had a knot in their stomach when you saw Rusty cross the 2005 Daytona finish line for the final time without a Cup regular season victory at the track. After all the horrific crashes and disappointing finishes at the fastest superspeedways, there’s a prevailing theme that Rusty is owed a win here. But you can’t win if you don’t try…and even though Wallace’s playoff position is surely proof he can still get the job done, Rusty has no plans to run any more Nextel Cup races.
But if Mark can extend his farewell tour, why couldn’t Rusty do it…for just one more event? Penske can run 4 cars at Daytona and still keep on pace for their program for the season. It’s hard to find someone who wants to win at the 2.5-mile track more than Wallace, and with the support of everyone at Penske who’s helped him through the years, as well as the advantage of being the sentimental favorite, he’d already start Speedweeks a leg up.
And so ends the daydream into a NASCAR that could be. But more likely than not, with most of these moves we’ll be left to ponder what might have been.
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