While there weren’t any notable high points on the track for Michael Waltrip in 2006, he did score plenty of high points in his dealings off the track. Already aligned with Toyota, in May Waltrip announced the signing of former NASCAR champ Dale Jarrett to drive the second car in his stable of Camrys for 2007.
Scott Wimmer was picked up by Richard Childress Racing in 2007, a deal which included running the final race of the Nextel Cup season at Homestead. Driving the No. 33 Holiday Inn Chevrolet, Wimmer justified the signing by posting his best result of 2006. Starting 24th, he steadily progressed to the front all race long to finish just outside the top 10 in 12th place.
It took just two races of 2006 before JJ Yeley registered his first top-10 finish, coming home eighth at California Speedway in February.
Martin Truex Jr. saved his best for last. At Homestead in November, Truex led 27 laps and came home a career-best second in the final race of the Nextel Cup season, falling just short of a victory when Greg Biffle took the checkered flag at the track for the third straight year.
As Jimmie Johnson turned to make his move on Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brian Vickers went with him, except he wasn’t fully clear of Johnson as he tried to draft behind him. The two touched, Johnson turned into Junior, and a last-lap melee ensued at the front of the pack. It was a wreck which Vickers was able to drive straight through in order to claim his first Nextel Cup win
In 2006, most of the No. 78 team’s 17 successful qualifying attempts came on intermediate tracks. Kenny Wallace had to make the race on speed all season in underfunded and underpowered equipment with a first-year team; given this, those 17 starts were not a terrible total.
Ironically, the high point of the season for Tony Stewart came late in the year, when he won three races during the playoffs after getting knocked out of Chase contention during the last race of the regular season. When the playoffs began, Smoke was the first driver on the outside looking in, pigeonholed in 11th place but with a sizable lead over 12th on back. That meant he now had nothing to lose by going out and running for the win each week.
David Stremme did manage to break the top 15 on a few occasions. He finished 11th in the Lenox Industrial Tools 300 at New Hampshire in July, then ended the year on a strong note with another 11th at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Earning the third starting spot for the prestigious Daytona 500 with a Duel win, Elliott Sadler went on to lead five laps in the race before crossing the finish line in fourth spot. Amazingly, what began as a strong top five weekend to start out the year would turn out to be Sadler’s best finish of the season.
Ken Schrader and company had their moments, and a nice run at Richmond in September was one of those bright spots. The No. 21 Ford ran in the top 10 all night long, eventually winding up finishing the race in the seventh position.
At Michigan in June, threatening weather caused crew chief Jimmy Elledge to make a late gamble, forcing Reed Sorenson to stay out on worn tires to try and steal the win. While the plan didn’t work to a T, Sorenson still came across the line in fifth place by the time the skies opened up on lap 129, giving him what would turn out to be his best finish of the year.
Kyle Petty’s best finish on the year was an eighth at Bristol in the spring, but the high point of the season might have come after he fought his way back into the Top 35 in owner points to end the season after falling approximately 100 points behind Sterling Marlin’s team. The late-season surge seems to be tied into an in-house move that clearly worked in Petty’s favor.