Frontstretch Staff · Wednesday January 4, 2006
Dear guys ‘n’ gals,
It’s that time again! A new year brings with it a chance to start with a clean slate, not only in life but in the NASCAR realm as the 2006 season is now but a month or so away.
But before we open the book on 2006, it’s time to write the final chapters in the 2005 NASCAR season that was. Join us over the next seven days as our Frontstretch Staff gives their take on some of the best and worst moments of the year, as well as the biggest challenges facing the sport as we head into a new season. And here’s the best part: we’ve left space underneath for you to add your own opinions! As always, we’d love to hear your own take on what should be remembered about NASCAR in 2005.
Today’s question takes into account the men who make NASCAR Nextel Cup racing the exciting sport it is today—- the drivers who put their lives on the line every Sunday. While Tony Stewart may have won the title, there were plenty of success stories that finished behind him in the standings, including some drivers in the Chase many thought might not even get a whiff of the Top 25 in points.
But with so many overachieving drivers to choose from, who stood out as this year’s biggest surprise? Our writers’ opinions varied, from a Missouri youngster who earned his “rookie” stripes to an actual rookie who visited Victory Lane twice in his first year.
Who was the Surprise Nextel Cup Driver of 2005?
Nikki Krone, FS Editor: Kurt Busch is both my surprise and disappointment this year. After the incidents with Jimmy Spencer and all the bad press Busch received, he really seemed to turn it around in 2004 when he earned the Nextel Cup Championship.
I, for one, believed he would be a great representative of the sport and that he really grew up. Boy, was I wrong. Busch showed that he has yet to mature into the kind of man worthy of wearing the title of champion. I hope, for his sake, a change of scenery and a year with the Penske organization turns
him around for good.
Tom Bowles, FS Assistant Editor/ Bowles-Eye View Columnist: Kyle Busch was certainly strong in his rookie season on tour, but it’s impossible to pick against the man with the backflip—- Carl Edwards. A season sweep at Atlanta, combined with Pocono and Texas wins served notice this man will be a star on the Nextel Cup circuit for many years to come. The fact he’s a nice guy with a fairy-tale, rise from the ashes storyline serves as an added bonus.
Kim DeHaven, FS Assistant Editor: Carl Edwards. I knew this kid was good, but I never dreamed he would win four races and challenge for the title! Unfortunately for Carl, as a “rookie without the stripes” his spectacular performance in his first full year did not re-write the record books.
Jeff Meyer, FS Voices Columnist: Carl Edwards, hands down!
Toni Heffelfinger, FS Second Fiddle Columnist: Carl Edwards. Sure, he showed some flashes of promise last year, and maybe a win or two was not out of the question. Still, he far exceeded everyone’s expectations, winning four times, making the Chase, and then actually contending for the championship.
Amy Henderson, FS That’s History Columnist: Jeremy Mayfield. For the second year in a row, the driver of the #19 Ray Evernham Dodge was quietly in position to guarantee himself a spot at the Waldorf. He wasn’t a preseason pick, barely a blip on the radar of fans and media alike, but this year he was solidly in the Chase for a second straight year, this time without having to win at Richmond in dramatic fashion. In a year when most Dodge teams struggled, Mayfield was quietly consistent and earned his place in the Chase.
Becca Gladden, FS If I Ruled the World Columnist: Carl Edwards. Though not technically a rookie, this was Edwards’ first full Cup season, and he came within 35 points of winning the title, with four victories, two poles, and 18 top-10 finishes.
Mike Neff, FS Columnist: How can it not be Carl Edwards? Not only did the Show Me State boy win his first Busch and Cup races on the same weekend, he made the Chase for the Nextel Cup. In the end, he came within a Tony Stewart flat tire of winning the Championship. Yet with all of that success swirling around him, he still came across as the type of person we all can admire: honest, humble, and sincere.
Between Edwards, Mayfield, and rookie sensation Kyle Busch, Nextel Cup certainly had its share of drivers who performed above expectations. But what about those drivers who didn’t? Part IV of our seven-part series on Friday examines those drivers who fell short of their goals—- and risk earning the dubious title of most disappointing driver of the 2005 season.
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