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Early Sparks and Late Runs
Lars Anderson
July 03, 2006
With more than half of NASCAR's regular season in the books, here's a nod to some of the magic moments plus a glimpse into the crystal ball. With racers flying to the finish in a bid to qualify for the Chase, SI breaks down the field
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July 03, 2006

Early Sparks And Late Runs

With more than half of NASCAR's regular season in the books, here's a nod to some of the magic moments plus a glimpse into the crystal ball. With racers flying to the finish in a bid to qualify for the Chase, SI breaks down the field

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Best Team Move

When Jack Roush announced in April that he was overhauling two of his race teams, changing the crew chiefs of Carl Edwards and Jamie McMurray, neither driver was happy with the news. But within weeks Roush was looking like the smartest owner in NASCAR. As soon as Roush engineer Wally Brown replaced Bob Osborne as Edwards's crew chief, Edwards's season took off: He moved from 22nd to 13th in points over the next three races. McMurray also jumped in the standings, from 21st to 14th, after Osborne replaced Jimmy Fennig atop his pit box. (Fennig took over Roush's Busch program.) Roush now has a shot at achieving his preseason goal of placing all five of his drivers in the Chase, just as he did in 2005.

Best Safety Check

On June 11 Jeff Gordon was roaring at 200 mph down the frontstretch at Pocono when his brakes failed. He smashed into the Turn 1 wall, his car crunching like an accordion. The impact, as measured by Gordon's onboard data recorder, was greater than the estimated impact in the crash that killed Dale Earnhardt at Daytona in 2001, yet Gordon walked away. Two reasons: the soft-wall SAFER Barrier that lines the track and the halo-shaped headrest on Gordon's seat. Both were developed after Earnhardt's death. "I feel very fortunate," said Gordon.

Best Pit-road Tiff

NASCAR's long and colorful history of pit-road altercations gained a surprising new chapter at Texas on April 9. After Kurt Busch caused Greg Biffle to wreck during the Samsung/ RadioShack 500, Biffle's girlfriend, Nicole Lunders, who was watching from Biffle's pit box, slammed a water bottle to the ground in fury and, in full view of TV cameras, marched to Busch's pit, where she confronted Eva Bryan, Busch's fianc�e. Lunders gave Bryan a verbal thrashing, telling her, in effect, that her man was out of line. "[Nicole] was just upset ... and really felt like Kurt was going to end up hurting somebody," said Biffle. "And that's what she conveyed to Eva."

Best Rookie

The 2006 rookie class may be the deepest in years, but Denny Hamlin has stamped himself as the likely valedictorian. Hamlin, 25, opened the season with a win in the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, and at Pocono got his first points-race victory. He has a real shot at the Chase. Says teammate Tony Stewart, "I think [ Denny's] on the verge of something big."

Best One-liner

"He's what we like to call a bird with no feathers. �He just doesn't know where he's going."
-- Tony Stewart, on Kyle Busch and his propensity for causing accidents

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