NASCAR

NASCAR lineup will have different look in 2006

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP)

At this point, don't bother memorizing the driver names and car numbers in NASCAR's Nextel Cup series. By the time the field lines up for the Daytona 500 in February, it will look very different. Gone will be longtime stars Rusty Wallace and Ricky Rudd, both planning to retire following the season-ending Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday. Wallace's decision before the 2005 season opened a prime ride in Penske Racing South's No. 2 Dodge, which will be filled by 2004 Cup champion Kurt Busch. Busch's decision to leave shocked and angered team owner Jack Roush, the man who brought him to NASCAR. Busch had a contract with Roush through 2006 and the owner was not inclined to let him leave his powerful five-car stable early, particularly since his longtime star Mark Martin was planning to retire after this season. Finally, though, a three-team deal was reached to allow Busch to make the move next season, as well as letting Jamie McMurray leave Chip Ganassi Racing to go to Roush, where he will take over Busch's No. 97 Ford. McMurray, who started most of the dominoes falling when he signed with Roush this year, originally was to get into Martin's No. 6 Ford. But when it appeared McMurray could not persuade Ganassi to let him out of his obligation for next season, Roush talked Martin into postponing his retirement for another year. Complicated? Wait, there's more. Struggling former series champion Bobby Labonte asked out of the final three years of his contract with Joe Gibbs Racing and will move to Petty Enterprises, replacing Jeff Green, who is off to the No. 0 car at Haas-CNC Racing. Green replaces Mike Bliss, who is looking for a ride. The rookie lineup for next season includes seven drivers and may be the best group of first-year drivers ever. Some in the NASCAR garage liken its potential star quality to that of the 1983 NFL draft class that featured Hall of Fame quarterbacks Dan Marino, John Elway and Jim Kelly. It is led by Martin Truex Jr., hoping to wrap up his second straight Busch Series title in Saturday night's race at Homestead. Joining Truex in the race for rookie of the year honors in 2006 will be Clint Bowyer, Reed Sorenson, David Stremme, J.J. Yeley, Denny Hamlin and Brent Sherman. Truex joins Dale Earnhardt Jr., co-owner of his Busch car, as a teammate at Dale Earnhardt Inc., while two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip leaves DEI for a new second entry at Bill Davis Racing. Scott Wimmer is out of the No. 22 Dodge at Davis, with Dave Blaney expected to move from Richard Childress Racing to fill that seat. Stremme moves into Ganassi's No. 40 Dodge, vacated by Sterling Marlin, another two-time Daytona 500 winner, who will move to MB2 Motorsports. Marlin will drive the Chevrolet driven this year by Scott Riggs, who joins Evernham Motorsports as a third Cup entry. Holdover Casey Mears will move into McMurray's No. 42 Ganassi entry while Sorenson joins the team as the third driver. Former open-wheel champion Yeley will replace Labonte in the No. 18 at Gibbs, while Hamlin will move full-time into the No. 11 Chevrolet he took over late this season. Hamlin has already impressed with three top-10 finishes and a pole in his first six Cup races. Sherman, second in the ARCA stock car series in 2004, moves to BAM Racing, replacing 50-year-old Kenny Schrader, who will replace Rudd in the Wood Brothers' famed No. 21 Ford. "I had no idea there were that many changes," said team owner Childress, who is putting Bowyer, the Busch runner-up heading into the finale, into the car driven this season by Blaney. But Childress wasn't totally surprised by the scope of the changes. "I think in today's world everybody's wanting to do good," he said. "You've got the Chase (for the championship), everybody's chasing to try to get in it. I think the whole environment's changed and people are looking for whatever it takes to get competitive." Childress pointed to the fact that all five Roush Cup entries made it into the 10-man, 10-race playoff-style Chase this year after the team won each of the last two titles. "Roush has got his cars going really good right now and we're all chasing him," he said. "So you've got to do better."

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