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.
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.
With the team knowing that a DNQ at the Great American Race could make or break their season, PPI Motorsports stepped up to the plate, and so did Travis Kvapil; the 18th-fastest time during Bud Pole qualifying was enough to lock the No. 32 Chevy into the Daytona 500.
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.
With five races to go, Jimmie Johnson was eighth in points, 146 points behind the leader; but then a win at Martinsville was followed by a second-place finish at Lowe’s – and Atlanta, Texas and Phoenix. The rally was good enough to hand Johnson his first NASCAR Nextel Cup championship.
Since falling just short of several wins in his rookie year in 2004, Kasey Kahne has found victory lane with increasing regularity.
Kevin Harvick had what resulted in a breakout year with his Richard Childress Racing team. Coming into 2006, Harvick had compiled five career victories; he doubled that total in 2006 with wins at Phoenix, Watkins Glen, Richmond, Loudon and again at Phoenix.
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.
After a season of struggles, owner Gene Haas made a change in October and reunited Jeff Green with crew chief Harold Holly. The two won the Busch Series championship together in 2000, and it didn’t take long for them to click again.
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.