Who'll win it all in '06? Who'll bomb out? What's the next big thing? NASCAR's supercharged swami, the Amazing DW, sees all and tells all
Posted: Thursday December 1, 2005 2:19PM; Updated: Thursday December 1, 2005 2:20PM
The Amazing DW, sees all and tells all.
Michael J. LeBrecht II
By Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Waltrip doesn't like what he's seeing. When 2007 rolls around, he points out, the NASCAR landscape will be altered. There will be a new television contract in place (say hello to ABC and ESPN) and a significantly reconfigured model of car out on the track (get ready for slower speeds).
"But what about 2006?" asks Waltrip. "Everyone in NASCAR is pointing to 2007 as the year everything changes. But I think there need to be changes next year."
Waltrip sat down with SI to discuss the upcoming Nextel Cup season. Here's what the three-time champion, who'll be calling the first half of the '06 season from the Fox booth, sees in store for his favorite sport.
SI: It's never too early to start thinking about who's going to win the championship in 2006. Who do you like?
DW: I don't see anything changing from 2005. I even think it'll probably be the same 10 guys in the Chase. Jeremy Mayfield will probably be the last one to slip in, and then, like this year, he'll do nothing in the last 10 races. Dale Jarrett is not getting any better, so I don't think he'll make it in. Elliott Sadler isn't getting it done either.
Right now I'd go with Jimmie Johnson to win the title. He's good at Talladega, he's good on the short tracks and he's good at places like Charlotte, so he's set up well to be strong in the Chase. His only equal is Tony Stewart. I think it's going to come down to those two guys again.
SI: Do you think Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. can rebound from their struggles of '05?
DW: To me Gordon is like Tiger Woods. Even when Gordon's not at his best, he still wins. But man, Gordon cannot run a lick unless he's in front. In traffic he's dogmeat. He's certainly got the ability to turn it around, but that team has got to figure out the car's setup better.
Dale Jr. and his team need to catch up in every area of their company -- in the motor department, the aero department and the chassis department. They've got a ton of work to do this off-season. It'll help that Junior is buds with Martin Truex Jr., who'll be his teammate. For whatever reason, Dale Jr. and Michael [Waltrip]'s relationship went sour, and they weren't helpful with one another. Martin and Junior will help each other, but I doubt Junior will be a contender in 2006. He just hasn't shown me anything in a long time.
SI: What young driver has a chance to surprise the field in 2006?
DW: I think Kyle Busch has the potential to be as good as his brother, Kurt. I mean, that kid is talented. I also like what I see out of Denny Hamlin, who'll drive for Joe Gibbs Racing. He's a cool cat, and he's just got the demeanor to be a great driver. He's definitely not in over his head, and he's my pick to win rookie of the year honors.
SI: What driver do you think could be on the verge of having a disappointing season?
DW: The one guy I could see being unhappy right now is Matt Kenseth. He won the championship in '03, but since then, for the most part, he has struggled. He made it into the Chase this year, but there's something going on there with him that needs some investigation. He doesn't seem happy at Roush Racing. Kurt Busch made the decision to leave Roush, and it just seems like drivers grow discontented after they've been there a while. I think Matt could be in for a long year.
SI: Finally, what is the one thing that concerns you most about the sport?
DW: That's easy -- the cars are going way too fast. NASCAR is saying that they're going to slow the speeds down in '07 with the introduction of what is being called the car of the future, but the speeds need to come down right now, because the racing just isn't very good. When the cars go 210 mph on the straightaways, it eventually rips up the tires and causes guys to lose control of the cars. Look, every time there's a track record set for speed, there's also a track record set for cautions. The two go hand in hand. Just in the last few weeks of the past season we had a record number of cautions at Charlotte and a record number at Martinsville. We need smaller engines or restrictor plates or something that will reduce the speeds. To me that's the Number 1 issue in NASCAR today.