HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
February 12, 2006

Musical bucket seats in the Nextel Cup

By Matt Kane

Gentlemen, start your engines. Or at least turn the television on, pop some popcorn, recline your favorite overstuffed chair and crack open an ice cold one, it’s racin’ time, again.

Speedweeks in Daytona Beach is well underway, and the big boys of the Nextel Cup Series put the rubber to the road Saturday night during the Budweiser Shootout.

Thursday, they will head out onto the tri-oval of the Daytona International Speedway for the Gatorade Dual at Daytona, and on Sunday they will swap paint in the Great American Race, the Daytona 500.

Defending Nextel Cup champion Jimmy Johnson took the checkered flag at last year’s season-opening Daytona 500, and he should be a favorite to win the Harley J. Earl Trophy again.

Johnson will drive the number 48 Lowes Monte Carlos, but there are a number of drivers who have switched rides in the offseason.

Don’t look for Mark Martin in the number 6. He left Rausch Racing after 19 seasons, and will be all he can be during a partial schedule in the Ginn Racing-owned number 01 U.S. Army ride. When Martin is not behind the wheel, rookie Regan Smith will be.

In moving to the 01 car, Martin bumps Joe Nemecek to the Ginn Racing number 13 Monte Carlo. Nemecek didn’t live up to his Front Row Joe nickname last season. He had two top-10 finishes and finished 27th in points.

For Evernham Motorsports, the exit of Jeremy Mayfield opened up the cockpit for Elliot Sadler. Sadler ran the final 14 races of last season with Evernham.

Mayfield re-joined Bill Davis Racing, and will drive the number 36 Toyota Camry.

Ken Schrader will drive the number 21, but will share duties with Jon Wood, the 25-year-old son of Eddie Wood, co-owner of Wood Brothers racing.

Maybe the best move up was made by Casey Mears. Still without a win in four seasons, Mears joined the win-happy Hendrick Motorsports team, and will replace Brian Vickers in the number 25.

Vickers left Hendrick for Team Red Bull and the number 83 car. A.J. Allmendinger will be Vickers’ teammate in the number 84.

Dale Jarrett switched teams and numbers, but will still drive the big brown car from UPS. He jumped from Robert Yates Racing to Michael Waltrip Racing. His car number is 44. Ricky Rudd will come out of semi-retirement to drive the 88 car of Yates.

Waltrip’s team is brand new, and will also include rookie David Reutimann in the 00 car.

Maybe the most anticipated change is Juan Pablo Montoya’s decision to change circuits. He comes to NASCAR from Formula One, where he was a seven-time winner. Montoya will pilot the number 42 for Chip Ganassi Racing, for whom he helped win the Rolex 24 At Daytona last month.

Going through the list, it’s hard to pick any names for favorites to contend for a season championship, or even a race.

We all know Martin can drive a race car, but will he have enough juice under the hood to make some noise? The same can be asked of all the others on the list.
That leaves me with my prediction for the Daytona 500.

Johnson is the easy choice, but I’m going with my almost namesake Kahne, as in Casey Kahne. There is no logic behind my pick, just that he has a cool sounding surname. He should be up there in points when the season nears its end.

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