A ninth-place finish in the final points standings in what looks to be your last legitimate season for a championship might bring many drivers down. In past years, it may have brought down the spirits of Mark Martin.
2006 was Jamie McMurray’s first year at Roush Racing after three-plus years driving for Chip Ganassi. His best race of the year was at Dover in June, where he topped all drivers with 95 laps led and finished second thanks to a late-race pass by teammate Matt Kenseth to rob him of the victory.
9. Dear Santa, Remember me? Not too many NASCAR team owners do either, and as a result I have had to take a part-time job. This year, could you please bring me a competitive ride in any of the three big series? – Steve Park
By stretching his fuel mileage and not making a final pit stop with his competitors, Terry Labonte took the lead in the Dodge/Save Mart 350 on lap 72 in the No. 96 DLP car. When the rest of the cars made their stops he used an 18-second advantage over Jeff Gordon to lead the next 17 laps of the event, finally getting overtaken by the Rainbow Warrior after a series of late caution flags.
Sterling Marlin piloted the Waste Management Chevrolet to its only top 10 of the season at Richmond, showing why he’s been a staple in the Nextel Cup Series for years after charging forward from his 32nd starting spot in this 400-lap event to claim ninth-place honors.
Which NASCAR driver was the biggest surprise in 2006, and why?
Matt Kenseth was certainly riding high during the first 26 races of the year, soldiering through the “regular season” in his normal workman-like style to find himself atop the points standings heading into this year’s Chase for the Championship.
Oddly enough, Bobby Labonte’s high point and low point might have come all at the same time. At Atlanta March 20, Labonte ran out front – far out front – for several laps and looked to have the car to beat until an engine failure put him out early. Still, just being there for that long was a quantum leap forward for the entire Petty organization.
The highest point for Dale Jarrett in 2006 had nothing to do with being on the racetrack. In May, he finally announced, once and for all, that he would be leaving RYR to join Michael Waltrip Racing, jumping from Ford to Toyota at the end of the ’06 season.
The entire 2006 Nextel Cup season truly could be considered Denny Hamlin’s high point, with a first-year performance that equaled what many drivers accomplish over their whole career.