The 2006 season is finally behind us, leaving time for only one final bit of business before the holidays; the presentation of the coveted, first annual "Sirius Speedway Post Season Road Dog Awards." These awards are voted on by a quasi-impartial panel of three (two if Suzy has a hair appointment), and all decisions are final. Winners will be declared honorary "Sirius Speedway Road Dogs" for the balance of the 2007 season.
And now, without further ado, this year's winners...
Best Alternative Use Of Closed-Cell Foam In An Athletic Event: Robby Gordon. His late-race use of a roll-bar padding projectile was second in audacity only to his, “nothing came out of my car…that I know of” innocent plea on national television. If Poker Face Gordon had represented OJ Simpson, The Juice would have fried by now.
Most Improved: Kurt Busch. Not his driving, his ears. He does make a lovely snow angel, though.
Most Admirable Insistence On Sticking To His Guns: SPEED’s Bob Dillner. Gullible? Perhaps. But steadfast in his devotion to protecting his sources. It could be worse.
Best Rebounder: Chad Knauss. He began the 2006 season by getting tossed out of Daytona International Speedway for cheating, and ended it with the Nextel Cup. There’s no quit in this guy.
Most Inspirational: Brian Vickers. After all, not just anyone can get 10,000 Talladega fans to throw down a perfectly good can of beer. The boy is a born motivator, that’s for sure.
The “Don’t Let The Door Hit You In The Butt On Your Way Out” Award: NBC. After failing in their attempt to incite a racial incident by sending a group of imitation Muslims to Martinsville this spring, the Peacock Network took a more passive approach the rest of the season; simply ignoring the sport they had paid handsomely to broadcast. NBC took the term “lame duck” to new depths in 2006, and they will not be missed.
The “I Don’t Deserve This, But Thanks” Award: California Speedway. NASCAR inexplicably rewards the nation’s largest market with a second Nextel Cup date, giving Los Angelans a chance to ignore stock car racing twice a year, instead of just once.
Most Insecure: Jamie McMurray. Other than a win in Sterling Marlin’s dominant Dodge 148 races ago, there hasn’t been much to write home about for J-Mac. A 25th place points showing for Roush Racing produced plenty of murmuring about his long-term job security, and it’s safe to say that 2007 will be a pivotal season for him.
The Lasik Award: NASCAR Officials. For their incredible ability to spot a chewing gum wrapper on the apron at 200 yards, just when Junior’s about to go a lap down.
The “Gee, I Really Thought It Was Ray’s Fault” Award: Jeremy Mayfield. He got the boot from Ray Evernham’s #19 Dodge after recording just four top-20 finishes (and no Top-10s) in 21 starts, then blamed it all on a “close personal relationship” between the boss and Erin Crocker. The fact that Elliott Sadler ran Top-10 in his first two replacement runs did little to bolster Mayfield’s case.
Bravest Driver: Jeff Gordon. The wreck he suffered at Pocono would make any normal human being contemplate retirement. But Gordo’s braver than most, as evidenced by his late-season decision to marry for the second time. Talk about big oysters.
The “I Should Have Quit While I Was Ahead” Award: Michael Waltrip. It took him decades – and an assist from Dale Earnhardt, Inc. -- to earn the respect of NASCAR fans and prove that he could drive. Now, he’s right back where he started, after failing to qualify twice in 2006, and running in the back of the pack when he did.
The “Time Warp” Award: NASCAR Fans who continue to insist that Rockingham and North Wilkesboro should return to the NASCAR Nextel Series schedule immediately, despite the fact that they never went to either track when they were ON the schedule!
Best Example Of Playing Both Ends Against The Middle: Mark Martin. He’ll run a Nextel Cup Chevrolet for Bobby Ginn next season, and a Craftsman Truck Series Ford for Wood Brothers/JTG Racing. If he can firm-up parttime Busch Series deals with Dodge and Toyota, he’ll have all his bases (and manufacturers) covered. There’s still time.
Most Improved: Scott Riggs. Is there any remaining doubt that his move from MB2 to Evernham Motorsports was a good one? Two poles and eight Top-10 finishes this season put him atop our “Best Driver Who Hasn’t Won Yet” list. He’ll change that in a hurry in 2007.
Worst Move: Brewco Motorsports. Brewco axed former Series champion David Green after 27 races, when he stood 16th in Busch Series points. Replacement Casey Atwood managed a best finish of 17th in his eight starts, proving that Green was not the problem. Now, veteran Jason Keller is in the running to replace Atwood in 2007, as the revolving door begins to pick up speed.
Best Freudian Slip: Kyle Busch. Calling his girlfriend by his sister-in-law’s name on national television may have given us an unintended look inside Shrubby’s mind last Saturday night, but it almost certainly doomed him to sleep on the couch for a few days.
Least Lovable: Robert Yates. Dale Jarrett bolted for a start-up team run by Michael Waltrip. Elliott Sadler threw him under the bus for a Ray Evernham ride that was 96th in points at the time. And now, Johnny Sauter says he’d rather stay with Haas CNC Racing than drive Yate’s #88 Ford. What’s the guy got, leprosy?
Best Target For A Sophomore Jinx: Denny Hamlin. After the season Joe Gibbs’ new wonderboy had in 2006, is there anywhere to go BUT down? Well, yes, but he’ll have a tough time equalling his phenominal rookie campaign in 2007. The good news is, Carl Edwards is off the hotseat at last.
Best Timing: Travis Kvapil. When Cal Wells’ PPI Motorsports began taking on water like the Titantic at tea time, Kvapil wasted little time heading for the life boats. A new ride in Jack Roush’s #6 NCTS Ford makes Kvapil the first man ever to be promoted from Cup to Trucks, and leaves him just a heartbeat away from a Nextel Cup return, should David Ragan or Jamie McMurray not make the grade in 2007.