In 2005, Carl Edwards completed his first full season in NASCAR Nextel Cup competition as the hottest driver as he scored 4 wins, 13 top fives, and 18 top tens. So naturally, he was predicted by many analysts to hoist the 2006 NASCAR Nextel Cup championship trophy. Well, an old myth swears by the sophomore slump, and Edwards made this myth a little credible. It’s not as if Edwards suffered through a flat-out miserable season, he just simply did not live up to the towering expectations that were placed before him. Edwards started to pick up the pace throughout the final ten races, and actually finished out the season with a little momentum. But the doughnut in the win column cannot be ignored, therefore, Edwards is the fifth most disappointing driver of 2006.
When Kurt Busch won at Bristol in March, it appeared that the conversion from Roush Racing Fords to Penske Racing Dodges would not affect his status as one of NASCAR’s elite drivers, however, Busch would hit a free fall and score only one top ten in the next eight races following his first and only win of 2006. Many analysts anticipated a struggle, but few expected Kurt Busch to finish 16th in the final Nextel Cup standings. Busch only scored seven top fives and twelve top tens, and endured his worst season since his rookie year in 2001. Other than a string of five consecutive top tens throughout the summer months, Busch never really threatened for a spot in the Chase for the Championship.
Wow, talk about a disastrous season- Jeremy Mayfield didn’t even get a chance to resurrect a dreadful first half. After the 21st race of the season, which happened to be the All-State (Brickyard) 400 at Indianapolis, Mayfield, who had previously qualifed for the Chase for the Championship in 2004 and 2005, had yet to record a top ten, and the 19 team had drifted outside the top 35 in NASCAR Nextel Cup owners points. Just days after his 42nd place finish at Indianapolis, Mayfield was fired by his former boss and friend Ray Evernham, and was eventually replaced by Elliott Sadler. The divorce became openly malevolent, from Evernham accusing Mayfield of sabotaging his own performance to Mayfield revealing Evernham’s relationship with a particular female employee. The issue was eventually settled, well legally at least, and Mayfield will try to resurrect his career for a second time with Bill Davis Racing in 2007. But the deteriorated friendship between Mayfield and Evernham may never mend.
Jamie McMurray won his first NASCAR Nextel Cup race in only his second career start at Charlotte in 2002 as a pro tem fill-in for the injured Sterling Marlin. Four years later, the long-awaited encore has yet to happen. McMurray spent his first three full seasons in Nextel Cup with Chip Ganassi Racing, and was somewhat competitive, but he never had that breakout season that a lot of people anticipated. In 2005, after a much publicized contract dispute, Ganassi released McMurray so he could be free to join Roush Racing in 2006, an organization that boasted all five teams in the Chase for the Championship in 2005. In fact, McMurray inherited the 2004 championship team that Kurt Busch had recently departed. But the grass was far less green at Roush Racing as McMurray struggled while he watched his teammates Matt Kenseth and Mark Martin qualify for the Chase, Greg Biffle win two races, and Carl Edwards contend for several wins. For reasons unknown, McMurray could not find that magical setup that Roush Racing is used to, therefore, he went through a trio of crew chiefs which included Jimmy Fennig, Bob Osborne, and Wally Brown.
It’s no secret that the performance of Roush Racing dwindled a bit from 2005, but McMurray scored three top fives, two in which were due in part to late race pit strategy, and seven top tens, and finished 25th in the final NASCAR Nextel Cup standings. I seriously doubt that this is what McMurray envisioned when he signed with Roush Racing.
Every February, when it came time to project the impending Nextel Cup season, Ryan Newman was one of those drivers that you automatically considered as a championship contender. From 2002 to 2005, Newman was a perennial front-runner, and even threatened to win a race or two in 2001, when he ran just a partial schedule. Even though Newman is more recognized by his qualifying prowess, he won 12 races in a four year span. So after Newman finished third in the season opening Daytona 500, he was thought to be a solid championship pick. Well, needless to say, Newman’s season was abhorrent, scoring only 2 top fives, 7 top tens, and 2 poles. The aberrant season posted by Newman was a consequence of several issues, but their incapacity to be competitive at the intermediate tracks was their primary quandary. The handling woes were partly caused by the Dodge Charger’s aero-sensitivity, and experimenting with the 2004 Intrepid did not help matters. Newman never scored a top ten at any of the 1.5-mile venues. With only two races to go in the 2006 season, crew chief Matt Borland was replaced by Mike Nelson.
Honorable Mention: Greg Biffle, Tony Stewart, Elliott Sadler, Bobby Labonte, Dale Jarrett, Michael Waltrip