Fan Awards: Comeback Driver
December 20, 2006 | 9:12 A.M. EST
In sports, it is always tough to rebound from a difficult season.
It requires long hours, extreme dedication and personal sacrifice to get back to the top of your individual sport – something very few people can accomplish.
However, the 2006 season saw several drivers pull off such a feat – including RacingOne’s selection for the season’s best comeback driver: Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 31 Cingular Chevrolet in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series.
A prominent title contender in the late 1990’s, Burton started to fall off the championship radar in 2001 – when he finished the season 10th in the championship standings while driving for Roush Racing. Since then, he has toiled outside the top-10 every year, finishing 12th in 2002 and 2003 while dropping to 18th in his last season at Roush (2004) and his first full year with Richard Childress Racing (2005).
Despite enduring a tough start to the 2006 season, having finished 32nd in the season opening Daytona 500, Burton and his team were able to return to the championship limelight thanks to a bevy of consistent finishes – including 15 top-10s that helped propel his team into the "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup." During the "Chase," Burton continued to make noise – assuming the championship lead for four weeks while also claiming his first victory (Dover) in 175 races – a streak that spanned over five seasons of competition.
While disappointing races towards the end of the 2006 season dropped Burton to a seventh place finish in the final standings, he delivered a clear message to his competition: He is still very much a championship contender.
Other candidates in this category included; Dale Earnhardt Jr. (rebounding from 19th in 2005 to fifth in the NEXTEL Cup standings in 2006), Jeff Gordon (11th to sixth), Michael Schumacher (Finishing just behind Fernando Alonso for the 2006 Formula One World Championship after falling to third in 2005 – over 71 points behind), Melanie Troxel (Had the most final round appearances in NHRA Top Fuel competition and scored her first two career victories after a forgetful 2005 that saw her finish 14th in the championship) and Alex Zanardi (became the first person who has his legs amputated to test an F1 machine last month in Valencia for BMW-Sauber).
Do you agree or disagree with RacingOne's selection? Here's your chance to cast your vote for the 2006 RacingOne Fan Awards. Just visit the Message Boards or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) to make your selection. Over the next two weeks RacingOne will have a different daily category culminating with the Award winners on Dec. 22nd. Note: Selections are limited just to the series' RacingOne covers.