The 2005 Chase For The Championship showcased a lot of interesting storylines. We witnessed the rise of Carl Edwards, one of NASCAR’s newest and brightest stars, and the fall of Kurt Busch, the 2004 champ. We had the privilege of watching Rusty Wallace end his career among the ten best of 2005. We were enthralled by the rivalries that heated up between Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart, Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle, and Kurt Busch and the Maricopa County cops.
And of course, the NASCAR world got to see the new and improved Tony Stewart cruise to his second championship. Even though the championship didn’t go down the to final turn of the race, the 2005 version of the Chase was considered memorable.
Missing from the Chase headlines were a few of NASCAR’s big names. Dale Earnhardt Jr, the sport’s most popular driver by far, had an awful season as he placed 19th in the final standings. Jeff Gordon, NASCAR’s most accomplished active driver, surprisingly had to settle for the 11th place consolation prize. But Earnhardt Jr and Gordon weren’t the only big names that missed out on NASCAR’s version of the playoffs.
Kasey Kahne, who has rapidly become one of the sports most popular drivers, was expected to shine in 2005. He was predicted by many to make the Chase, especially after his successful rookie year in 2004. After Kahne won the Chevy Revolution 400 at Richmond back in May, a lot of his rivals expected him to put together a cluster of strong runs which would catapult him into the top ten. It never happened, in fact, it was just the opposite. He was eliminated from the Chase weeks before the 26th race of the year.
Kevin Harvick has one of the larger fan bases in NASCAR. But for the second consecutive season, he missed out on an opportunity to compete for the title. Harvick was able to win a race at Bristol back in April, but like Kahne, his season took a turn for the worse after his win. Around mid-season, rumors began to swirl about Harvick’s future with Richard Childress Racing. The two stuck together and ended the year on a decent note, but after two straight absences from the chase, the pressure will be on Harvick and the #29 team in 2007.
The 1999 champion Dale Jarrett and 2000 champion Bobby Labonte performed below average in 2005. Jarrett’s futility became frustration and that was evident as he had confrontations with Shane Hmiel, Carl Edwards, and Ryan Newman. He went through a trio of crew chiefs as they just couldn’t seem to find the chemistry between driver and crew chief. There was a bright spot to Jarrett’s season when he won the UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega in October with Todd Parrott (his long-time crew chief from 1996-2002) cheering him on. Unfortunately, the Jarrett/Parrott re-union was short lived.
Labonte’s season was a disaster as he never was able to gain any momentum. He continued to struggle as his teammate Tony Stewart enjoyedï¿½the best season of his career. His quandary with Joe Gibbs Racing became so bad that he decided to find work elsewhere, as he felt that the grass was greener over at Petty Enterprises. Labonte will now have the grueling task of putting that famous #43 back in victory lane.
Other NASCAR stars that hope to appear in the 2006 Chase For The Championship include Elliott Sadler, Jamie McMurray, and Jeff Burton.