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Has the grass been greener for shuffled teams?

Jeff Findley

Driver movement during and after the 2005 NASCAR season was at an all-time high. It was proven that contracts really don’t mean much and if a driver wants to leave a team and join another, it will can and will be done.

I thought it would be interesting to take a look and see which teams made the right choices and which teams are worse off in terms of their driver.

At least 13 teams have a different guy driving their car in 2006 than drove it in 2005. Seven of those teams gained positions in the standings through the first 12 races this year as opposed to last year.

The most improved of those seven is the FedEx team of Joe Gibbs Racing. Jason Leffler drove that car in the first 12 races last year and the team was in 36th position. With hotshot rookie Denny Hamlin in the car, the team currently sits in 12th position, a 24-spot turnaround. And Denny makes cool commercials, as well. Do you ever remember seeing a FedEx commercial with Leffler? Me either.

Richard Childress’ Jack Daniels no. 07 team is the other big gainer. Dave Blaney had the team sitting in 25th position last year while another rookie, Clint Bowyer, currently occupies the 15th spot in the standings. A couple of breaks here and there and Bowyer could threaten to get into the chase.

Blaney replaced Scott Wimmer in the no. 22 Cat car and improved that team by two spots, from 35th to 33rd.

Bobby Labonte replaced Jeff Green in Richard Petty’s no. 43 car and that team’s position has improved five spots, while Green replaced Mike Bliss in what is now the no. 66 car. Last season that car was no. 0 and was in 29th position through 12 races and Green has the car in 21st position. Got that?

J.J. Yeley replaced Bobby Labonte in the no 18 car. That’s a push. Both occupied 24th position after the first 12 races.

Chip Ganassi made changes in all three of his teams this season, two teams have fallen in the standings while one has improved. Sterling Marlin had the no 40 car in 20th position last season while rookie David Stremme has struggled and sits in 37th spot. Reed Sorenson has motored the no 41 to 20th position while Casey Mears had the same car in 28th position. But Mears currently sits in 11th position in the no 42 car, the same ride Jamie McMurray had in ninth spot in 2005.

McMurray moved to Roush’s no. 26/97 team that Kurt Busch had in tenth place last season and promptly moved it down to the 18th position. Meanwhile Busch has dropped the no 2 car the same number of positions, from the 11th that Rusty Wallace earned for the team to 19th position.

Boy, this is making my head hurt.

Bottom line is, most of the teams that made driver changes have come out okay, but the two changes that garnered the most attention and was unsettled for almost six months, Busch and McMurray, have performed worse than their predecessors.

Now to the race this week, the Monster Mile at Dover runs Sunday afternoon at 2 on FX. My pick to win the race is Dale Earnhardt, Jr. He is a past winner and has been as consistent as any time in his career. Junior posts win number two this week.