Thomas Bowles · Monday December 5, 2005
The Waldorf Astoria was full of glitz and glamour on Friday night, but the overall message was crystal clear: It’s Tony Stewart’s time to shine.
The driver of the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet picked up his second Nextel Cup trophy in four years during the 25th annual NASCAR banquet at the Waldorf. Stewart collected a winners’ check of over $6 million as he, crew chief Greg Zipadelli, owner J.D. Gibbs, and engine builder Mark Cronquist were among the team members honored at the head table of the Waldorf Astoria.
“Dad, I didn’t screw it up!” A happy J.D. Gibbs exclaimed in taking the owners’ trophy. Gibbs has been running the team since father Joe returned to coach the Redskins in 2004. It was his forced team meeting with Tony Stewart and the Home Depot crew at the end of last season which is largely credited with turning Stewart’s personality around and pointing the 20 team in the right direction…straight toward the championship.
The atmosphere around Stewart was representative of the fun the 20 car had all season, as the banquet appeared to be much looser than in past years. Comedian Jay Mohr had several funny highlights, taking stabs at everyone from Jimmie Johnson, to Jack Roush, to Will Ferrell. Musical performances were given by Gavin DeGraw and Toni Braxton.
Speaking of Ferrell, he offered up one of the highlights of the event, standing in for 11th-place Jeff Gordon to accept his award on stage. Gordon sent in a taped speech, as he was in Paris participating in the Race of Champions.
An emotional Rusty Wallace took the stage one final time as a driver for his 8th-place finish in the final standings. A video tribute highlighted Rusty’s 25-year career in the sport, and speeches by Brian France, Nextel CEO Tim Donahoe, and Roger Penske followed Rusty’s final talk at the podium. Wallace was presented with a plaque of his 1984 Rookie-of-the-Year application in addition to his 8th-place check.
Other highlights included an elated Carl Edwards declaring “Don’t give up on your dreams” in accepting his 3rd-place award, and Mark Martin delivering a rousing speech claiming he would win in 2006 while accepting 4th-place.
Banquet News ‘N’ Notes
- Kurt Busch has wasted no time putting the past behind him and looking towards the future. He participated in all Champions Week activities, gave a respectful speech summarizing the success he’s had at Roush Racing, and then spent the evening picking the brain of the driver he’s replacing, Rusty Wallace, at the Dodge Afterparty underneath the banquet hall. Others in attendance at the black-tie affair besides the Dodge contingent lucky enough to crack the Top 10 in points: media legends Ken Squier & Chris Economacki.
- Chad Knaus to Evernham was the hot topic on Friday several sources immediately denied the rumor, which was put to rest on jayski.com Saturday morning. Knaus was unavailable for comment, however, on Friday.
- Hidden underneath the hubbub of banquet activity were several moves by smaller teams for 2006. McGlynn Motorsports confirmed Derrike Cope will be their driver for the 2006 season. Sponsorship is pending and will be announced in the next few weeks. Front Row Motorsports also confirmed Chad Chaffin will be their team’s driver in 2006, as the fledgling Cup team is busy trying to put together a competitive sponsorship package. Lastly, Bill Davis Racing ended their poorly-kept secret of who would drive the 22 car, announcing Dave Blaney as their man for 2006 with former RCR guru Kevin Hamlin coming aboard as crew chief.
Photo Courtesy: Tony Lumbis
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