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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2006 Driver Review: Tony Raines

Tony “Wasn’t I Lucky To Be Over 30 And Still Land A Decent Cup Ride” Raines
2006 Ride: No. 96 Texas Instruments DLP Products Chevrolet
2006 Owner: Hall of Fame Racing (Troy Aikman, Roger Staubach and Bill Saunders)
2006 Crew Chief: Philippe Lopez (Feb.-Oct.), Brandon Thomas (Oct.-Nov.)
Stats: 29 races, zero wins, zero top fives, one top 10, 35th in points.

High Point: Despite his struggles most of the season, Raines managed to keep Bill Saunders, owner of the No. 96 car, high enough in owner points to guarantee the team would make the race each week. While improvement was steady but slow, a breakthrough came in October when Raines drove the No. 96 car to seventh at Lowe’s, part of a late-season surge that saw him score five top-20 finishes in the final eight races of the year. That seventh-place finish was one of two for the No. 96 team throughout the 2006 season; Terry Labonte drove the car to a third-place finish at the Infineon road course.

Low Point: Other than his late surge, Raines struggled the majority of the season, finishing 18th or better just six times in 29 starts. Though he only only had one DNF, Raines failed to finish on the lead lap 18 times in 2006 with a car that frequently seemed incapable of running with anyone but backmarkers.

Summary: With a new team fielding just a single full-time car, Raines did a reasonable job despite his struggles. The car consistently remained within the Top 35 in owner points, guaranteed to make the field each race, and Raines juggled his “part-time” driving responsibilities well, humbly handing the driver’s job over to Labonte on the road courses to give the team the best possible opportunity to succeed. Certainly, Hall of Fame expects better results over time, but it seemed Raines was well on his way to achieving them by the end of the season, clearly steering the fledgling organization in a positive direction.

2007 Outlook: Raines is signed to race for Hall of Fame Racing a second season. Once new crew chief Brandon Thomas assumed the position in October of ’06, the team really seemed to gel, and with Thomas returning for his first full year in ’07, continued improvement is probable for this bunch. As long as the organization works towards developing a second team, Raines can continue to feel safe growing at a reasonable pace with the organization, keeping one eye looking ahead, ready to take a big step up when the team expands to two cars in 2008.

Grade: C