Busch, McMurray, Mears on the move
The shoe that the entire NASCAR community was waiting to fall finally fell this week. It was announced early in the week that the Ganassi-Penske-Roush driver situation has been resolved. To no one’s surprise, Kurt Busch will move to the Penske no. 2 car, Jamie McMurray will move to the no. 97 Roush car, and Casey Mears was moved to the Ganassi no. 42 ride. All of these changes will be effective at the beginning of the 2006 season.
This situation has pretty much been the story of the year in NASCAR. We are dealing with a former champion in Busch and one of the most recognizable cars in NASCAR history in the no. 2 Miller Lite car. Chip Ganassi was the car owner that had nothing to gain in this whole swap and that is the reason
that it took the better part of five months to complete. Ganassi was protecting himself and no one can blame him for that.
After announcing a couple of months ago that he would expand to four teams for 2006, Ganassi will now only field three teams. Casey Mears was scheduled to pilot the new no. 39 team, but he will now move over to the Texaco no. 42 ride. His on-track performance over the last several races made it easier for Ganassi to make the move. Mears has always been a personal favorite of mine and I hope he performs well in the car.
By the time you read this, Bobby Labonte will be the newest driver to sit in the infamous no. 43 car. I think Petty Enterprises hit the jackpot by landing Labonte. Since Richard Petty drove his last race in 1992, this team has been a revolving door of mediocre drivers. Petty Enterprises won a couple of races with Bobby Hamilton in the mid-90s and their last win came in 1999 with John Andretti. Many people will be thrilled if Labonte can return to his championship form and put the no. 43 back in Victory Lane next season. Don’t discount the impact that Robbie Loomis, Jeff Gordon’s former crew chief, will have on this team.
NASCAR instituted what will surely become known as the &uot;Roush Rule.&uot; Effective next season, car owners will be limited to fielding four teams. Of course, Roush is grandfathered in, but he will be given until 2009 to trim one team from his stable. NASCAR wants to even the playing field and encourage new owners to get into the sport. With owners Roush and Rick Hendrick winning two-thirds of the races this year, NASCAR feels like entry into the sport is harder than it should be, thus the change.
Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson, the leader and runner-up in the points chase, are fortunate that there are only two races left to determine a champion. Carl Edwards, winner of the last two races, is on fire and is a serious threat to overtake one, if not both, of the top two. After the race in Martinsville two weeks ago, Edwards was 149 points behind Stewart. Going into the race this weekend at Phoenix, he is 77 point behind Stewart, a 72-point jump in two weeks. It looks like the next champion will come from these three drivers.
Of the chasers, Mark Martin has fared the best at Phoenix with a ninth place average finish in 18 career races, including 13 top ten finishes. Martin is 123 out of first and will have to win the race to have even a slight chance to win the championship. However, my pick to win this race is Dale Earnhardt, Jr. The reunion of Tony Eury and Junior has produced some solid results and performances over the last several races and Junior was won here twice before. The preparation for 2006 continues this weekend for the Bud team.