Left to right: Joe Gibbs Racing president, Tony Stewart and crew chief Greg Zipadelli celebrate their 2005 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series championship, Stewart’s second, in New York City.
The winds of change blow at the end of every racing season. The changes ahead for the 2006 NASCAR Nextel Cup campaign, however, are hurricane force.
Rusty Wallace and Ricky Rudd have retired.
Mark Martin is coming back for one more year at Roush Racing, joined by Jamie McMurray.
Kurt Busch is now in the Roger Penske camp, while Bobby Labonte has left Joe Gibbs racing to hook up with Petty Enterprises.
Terry Labonte and Tony Raines will team up for a new organization, Hall of Fame Racing; Casey Mears takes over the Havoline car for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates; and J. J. Yeley has replaced Bobby Labonte at Gibbs.
The expression “you can’t tell the players without a scorecard” certainly applies for NASCAR, circa 2006.
“Being named the new driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge is a huge honor for me, a big moment in my professional career,” says Busch, who slips into the cockpit made famous by Wallace. “I’ve got some big shoes to fill, following in the steps of Rusty, but I am thrilled to have Miller Lite’s support and the chance to excite Miller’s NASCAR fans on the racetrack.”
Busch was able to get a jumpstart with his new team after Jack Roush suspended him for the final two races of 2005 following an incident prior to the Phoenix event.
“We are pleased that Kurt and Roush Racing were able to reach an agreement on Kurt’s release and appreciate the professionalism that it has taken to arrive at this result,” Penske says. “Kurt’s joining us for 2006 will provide a smooth transition for the team and our sponsors.”
Busch had signed a multi-year agreement with Penske Racing South that was to take effect in 2007.
As for Bobby Labonte, a former champion who has struggled mightily in recent years, he hopes a change of scenery will give his career a lift.
“I’m really pleased to be part of Petty Enterprises,” Labonte says. “When I first came into this sport, my heroes were Terry Labonte and Richard Petty. To have the opportunity to drive Richard Petty’s No. 43 car is something I could not have imagined growing up. The 43 knows its way to victory lane, and we’ll get it back there. I am looking forward to working with Kyle, the King and the entire Petty team.
“I had a great run at Joe Gibbs Racing, and have the utmost respect for that organization and appreciate all they did for me. I am fortunate to be going to another high-quality organization in Petty Enterprises.”
Kyle Petty anticipates a banner year with Labonte at the wheel.
“We’re bringing some serious firepower to the 43 Dodge next year, and I’m excited about having Bobby Labonte as a teammate,” Petty says. “Bobby knows how to win races and how to win championships.”