2006: Stories To Watch

We've barely turned the calendar pages to 2006, but the racing season is bearing down on us. Daytona testing is only days away and the start of "Speedweeks 2006" just a few short weeks down the road. Here are some of the more interesting stories to keep our eyes on during the coming year.


Can Bobby Labonte, Todd Parrott and Robbie Loomis return Petty Enterprises to its glorious past? The trio is in place in hopes of getting the No. 43 and No. 45 entries competitive once again and certainly have the credentials to do so. But does Petty have the resources, and horsepower, necessary?


Now that we've seen titles won by the "old" Tony Stewart and last year's kinder, gentler model, which Stewart will show up in 2006? Odds are the 2005 champ will come back just as strong next year having learned that enjoying the ride is a big part of being successful. There should be less of Stewart to love in 2006 as well as the two-time champ is said to be hard at work on a physical fitness program to drop his rather hefty profile of a year ago.


It will positively, definitely be Mark Martin's final year as a full-time NEXTEL Cup driver in 2006 (right?), and what better way to end a stellar career than with a first-ever title. Martin showed in 2005 he can be as competitive as anyone and if Rusty Wallace was the sentimental pick to win the championship in 2005, Martin has that category already locked up for next year.


An unprecedented number of new driver/team combos will take to the track this coming NEXTEL Cup season. Among those under the miscroscope will be Kurt Busch (Penske Racing), Jamie McMurray (Roush), Michael Waltrip (BDR) and Scott Riggs (Evernham).


One of NEXTEL Cup's deepest rookie fields in years is set to take to the track in 2006 with the likes of Martin Truex, Jr., Clint Bowyer, David Stremme, Reed Sorenson and J.J. Yeley all in high profile rides.


NASCAR's new testing policy will limit individual team tests in favor of a group testing schedule. It remains to be seen whether the new rules will have an impact on teams' racing performances.


Those who are opposed to "Buschwhackers" taking over the Busch Series aren't going to like 2006 very much. The limited testing policy has in turn been the catalyst for more NEXTEL Cup teams and drivers than ever to field Busch cars, a perfect way to "learn" for Cup competition. For the first time ever, a full-time Cup driver could very well win the Busch title in 2006.


She captured the world's attention at Indianapolis this year, but can Danica Patrick become more than a sideshow in 2006? She put up impressive numbers for a rookie driver, no matter what the gender, but even she admits its time to win. With a thin field of competitive cars on the horizon for the IRL in 2006, Patrick should break through and make more history with a trip to victory lane sometime this IndyCar season.


It's going to be a tough chore to fill the 33 spots in this year's Indianapolis 500. With the downsizing going on in the IRL garage area and Champ Car's teams unable to compete at the Brickyard this year because of scheduling conflicts, this year's edition may not make the traditional eleven rows of three.


The United States Grand Prix will be back at Indianapolis with a new July 4th weekend date. And American Scott Speed will compete full-time on the series in 2006. But do American racefans care about Formula One racing any longer? After last year's USGP debacle, the series will have to mend many more fences to generate additional interest from America. Maybe Speed can capture the fancy of US fans.


The winged sprint car racing split is destined to severely damage an already fragile segment of the racing world. Unless the two sides can iron out their differences, there is no way both the World of Outlaws and the newly-formed National Sprint Tour can survive. Both claim the other side is wrong, a fight song we've heard with deadly results in other racing world splits, and unfortunately this can't end any other way but badly.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2006

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