Frontstretch Staff · Friday January 6, 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 reviews the drivers that started the 2005 season as the talk of the garage…and finished it hiding in the back alley. When you have 43 of the most talented drivers in the world battling each other week in, week out, there’s only so many that can finish the year on top of the heap. For every driver in the Top 10, you’ve got 3 falling through the cracks and failing to live up to expectations. Especially in the new “young gun” era of NASCAR, today’s stars can quickly become yesterday’s news, as we saw with drivers like Casey Mears, Kasey Kahne, and Elliott Sadler during the 2005 season.
But was it the “young guns” who were the biggest disappointments, or popular veterans like Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jeff Gordon who failed to make the Chase? As you’ll see below, our opinions were wide-ranging in a year where there were several drivers capable of capturing this dubious award.
Who was the Most Disappointing Nextel Cup driver of 2005?
Tom Bowles, FS Assistant Editor/ Bowles-Eye View Columnist: Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon make strong cases, but Dale Earnhardt, Jr. blows them away in terms of the year’s biggest disappointment. After the shocking crew chief swap with Michael Waltrip in the offseason blamed on family issues between Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and the Eurys, the 8 team faltered after Daytona in February and never righted the ship. Crew chief Pete Rondeau was dismissed in April, and while replacement Steve Hmiel led the team to a win at Chicagoland, Dale, Jr. suffered through wild inconsistency and poor-handling race cars almost everywhere else. By the time Tony Eury, Jr. got back on board with the team in race twenty-seven, the season for the 8 car was long over, with Dale, Jr. headed for his worst Nextel Cup points finish since racing full-time (19th). If there’s a bright side, NASCAR’s most popular driver is the runaway leader for Comeback Driver of the Year in 2006…and testing hasn’t even started yet!
Amy Henderson, FS That’s History Columnist: Kasey Kahne had such a strong rookie campaign in 2004, coming agonizingly close to winning several times, that most thought it was only a matter of time before the young driver would win, and win often. Unfortunately, while Kahne did find that first Cup win in ’05, he also found monumental bad luck and struggles with the Dodge Charger, and these kept his team from ever finding the consistency of teammate Jeremy Mayfield.
Jeff Meyer, FS Voices Columnist: Jeff Gordon. You expect Jeff to be one of the drivers in the Chase every year, and when that doesn’t happen, it’s a big surprise. He was strong at first, winning his third Daytona 500, but then fell miserably short by race twenty-six, despite a late season charge that moved him up to 11th in the standings.
Kim DeHaven, FS Assistant Editor: Dale Earnhardt, Jr., although I hate to say him cause he wins every other darned poll with his name attached to it. Dale, Jr. experienced the worst season of his career since he began driving full-time in 2000, at least statistically, with just one win, 169 laps led, and a 19th-place finish in the standings. Will reuniting with his cousin/crew chief be the fix? Stay tuned in ‘06.
Toni Heffelfinger, FS Second Fiddle Columnist: Kasey Kahne. Yes, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had disappointing seasons, but Kahne dropped right off the map. Yes, he did get his first win at Richmond, but it was the only time we heard from him all season except for his New Hampshire bump ‘n’ grind with Kyle Busch. 23rd in points…talk about a sophomore slump…
Nikki Krone, FS Editor: Kurt Busch is my disappointment. After earning the Nextel Cup Championship last year, he struggled in the Chase and ended the year on a two-race suspension from Roush Racing. With his arrest in Arizona before the Phoenix event, 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.
Becca Gladden, FS If I Ruled the World Columnist: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Dale, Jr. had his worst Cup season ever in a number of categories, and the whole three-crew-chiefs-in-one-year saga was mystifying, to say the least.
Mike Neff, FS Columnist: This may be a little different from what most people think. I feel like it was Kevin Harvick. He has arguably one of the two most famous rides in NASCAR. He is supposedly filling the shoes of the man who brought this sport to the cusp of the heights it has reached today, a man who sacrificed everything to achieve a dream. Yet instead of embracing that legend and advancing it, Mr. Harvick turned to the media throughout much of the year to take jabs at his own organization. The low point, for me, was when he walked out during a race at Bristol while his team was thrashing to try and get him back in the show, all while dangling the thought of going elsewhere to try and get people to beg him to stay. Kevin needs to lead that team back to the Championship-caliber team they are, not divide it with his petty actions. In 2005, he certainly did nothing of the sort.
As you can see, opinions amongst our writers ran wild, and we didn’t even get to many of the other drivers who could have ended up on this list. Certainly, 2006 will be a year full of drivers looking for redemption both on and off the track.
But what else lies ahead for the sport as we head towards 2006? Part V of our seven-part series on Saturday takes a look at the challenges developed in 2005 that will need to be addressed as the sport tilts full speed towards February at Daytona.
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