Frontstretch Staff · Monday February 6, 2006
After an anxious three months of anticipation, the offseason is finally coming to an end! The end of this week marks the engines firing at Daytona and the official beginning of the 2006 Nextel Cup season.
Before the engines fire on pit road, though, we thought it more than appropriate to offer our insight on a variety of 2006 topics to get you fully prepared for the season to come. Check out this space all week to get our writers’ predictions on both the best and worst to come as we head into NASCAR’s biggest season yet!
Here’s today’s topic: Which driver to you see having a “breakout season” in the Nextel Cup series as we go through 2006?
Nikki Krone, FS Editor: After running very well in 2005 and coming SO close to victory, the pressure is going to be on Brian Vickers to pick it up even more in 2006, and I think he will. He’s had the talent, now he has the confidence—and there is no greater motivator than the chance of losing one’s ride.
Tom Bowles, Assistant Editor: Throughout all the hubbub of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jeff Gordon missing the 2005 Chase, people forgot how Joe Nemechek nearly sneaked into the Top 10 if not for a blown engine while leading at California last February. With solid, veteran MB2 teammates in Sterling Marlin and possibly even Bill Elliott in a reasonable part-time schedule, this could be the year “Front Row Joe” finally backs up his qualifying runs with tangible race results.
Kim DeHaven, Assistant Editor: It’s my opinion that Ken Schrader will experience a “break back in” year. Joining with the experienced Wood Brothers, I think Schrader will seriously contend in many races and make a return visit or two to Victory Lane, a place he hasn’t visited since 1991.
Ren Jonsin, Webmaster: Casey Mears, Casey Mears, Casey Mears. There, I said it three times. Mears is now the senior driver at Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, and should see even more support from the garage. Don’t be surprised if he is even in the Chase this year.
Dennis Michelsen, Senior Writer: Jamie McMurray gets Roush equipment under him now, and should have instant success. I
also think Denny Hamlin could have an amazing rookie season, with the possibility of two wins in his first year!
Toni Heffelfinger, Senior Writer: I’ve got to go with Brian Vickers. Team owner Rick Hendrick says he wants all four of his cars in the Chase. If he’s willing to pony up the equipment to do just that, Vickers and the long-suffering 25 team will finally get the job done.
Jeff Meyer, Senior Writer: Carl Edwards. If you thought last season was huge, just wait for this year…look for Carl to perform 4 (possibly 5) back flips in Nextel Cup Series Victory Lanes in 2006.
Amy Henderson, Senior Writer: Casey Mears. Momentum is a wave, and Mears is right on top of it. Two almost-wins in 2005 (the debris in turn 4 at Homestead must have looked an awful lot like a giant screw to Mears) coupled with his Rolex win this winter show that Mears is ready to take that next step.
Becca Gladden, Writer: Kyle Busch. Last season’s Rookie-of-the-Year, Kyle had two victories in 2005, ending the season 20th in points. He enters 2006 with a full year of Cup experience under his belt and is less likely now to make rookie mistakes. Backed by Hendrick’s strong engine program, Busch will have a solid sophomore season, and has a good chance of making the Chase if luck swings his way.
Mike Neff, Writer: I think Brian Vickers is set for a breakout year in 2006. The team was certainly coming together at the end of last season, and Brian Whitesell is having a very positive effect on the 5 and 25 shop. Hendrick has the resources necessary to keep the team up front for the entire season, as long as he utilizes them correctly.
Cami Starr, Writer: Casey Mears. He really came on late in the season last year, with four top-10’s in the last six races of the season. He didn’t fall out of many races in 2005, and I think that consistency will just help him keep improving. Now that he’s the "veteran" driver at Ganassi, I think this will be his time to step up and shine.
According to our writers, Casey Mears and Brian Vickers look poised for breakout years. However, where two to three drivers break free from mediocrity, there are several others who slip back into the arms of DNF’s, DNQ’s, and simply being out of a job. Who’s headed for the unemployment line this year? Part III of our preview series tackles that issue tomorrow.
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