2006 Team Performance
The mountain's summit at last. Hendrick won the Nextel Cup title for the first time since Jeff Gordon'S fourth title in 2001, as Jimmie Johnson staged a dramatic comeback in the second half of the chase for the championship. Gordon himself made the Chase a year after getting shut out of the top 10, while precocious Kyle Busch also was Chase-worthy. Only Brian Vickers failed in 2006. The most noise Vickers made this past year was winning the fall Talladega race by crashing his soon-to-be-former teammate Johnson into Dale Earnhardt Jr., wrecking them both on the race's final lap. It was Vickers's first career win with the big boys of stock-car racing, but it was most notable for screamingly angry Junior fans trying to pelt the No. 25 car with bottles of Bud. Poor guy, even when he succeeded, he failed.
2007 Team Outlook
A championship sure spreads sunshine. The truth is, Hendrick cars accounted for 10 wins in 2005, and "only" eight in 2006, so it's hard to say these guys broke out of a major slump. But whereas Johnson has taken to NASCAR's spoiler and tire changes over the past couple years very well, Gordon struggled until partway through 2006, especially at the unrestricted intermediate tracks that take up the bulk of the season. Gordo clearly found something late, though, as his strong performances at Michigan, Fontana, Atlanta and Texas attest. There's reason to believe he can't carry that momentum forward. The younger Busch continues to get the same great equipment Johnson and Gordon get, so there's no reason to think he can't parlay his 21-year-old skills into another Chase. The x factor will be Vickers' replacement, Casey Mears, who's labored for Ganassi over the past few seasons. Mears still hasn't won a Nextel Cup race, although he finished second in last year's Daytona 500. Now that he's driving for one of the sport's most powerful teams, he's officially out of excuses.
5 - Kyle Busch
Best Finish: 1st
Poles, top-5s, top-10s, DNFs: 1, 10, 18, 2