2006 Team Performance
Need proof that fielding a successful Nextel Cup team is like dancing on a razor blade? Witness the divergent tales of Kasey Kahne and Jeremy Mayfield. In 2006, Kahne won more races than anyone else in the series, made the Chase for the Cup, and finally justified his stardom after a horrible sophomore slump. Meanwhile, Mayfield started 21 events for Evernham and notched exactly zero top-10 finishes, then was fired after the Brickyard 400 and replaced by Elliott Sadler. Ouch. Coming into 2006, Mayfield was a legitimate second-tier star in this sport. He made each of the first two Chases, was followed around for the documentary "NASCAR 360" and got his very own TV commercials in which he praised his date for wearing motor oil as perfume. What happened? Didn't these two guys get pretty much the same commitment from their team, and the same equipment? Well, maybe. Mayfield claimed Ray Evernham stayed too detached from the No. 19's operations, while Evernham countered by saying Mayfield sucked. Sadler took over the No. 19 as of Watkins Glen, and did improve the car's finishing average over the rest of the season. Meanwhile, Scott Riggs, the third Evernham driver, must've felt relatively shell-shocked with all the infighting. He failed to qualify for the Daytona 500 and muddled through a pretty poor first half, but did come on strong to perform very well at both Charlotte events.
2007 Team Outlook
After winning just three events in all of 2005, Dodge Chargers took seven checkered flags in 2006 (six by Kahne), thus alleviating some of the fears that the new Dodges would never take well to limited spoilers and softer tires. The advent of the Car of Tomorrow will likely allay those fears even more, which means driver talent will be at even more of a premium. In that category, Evernham is pretty strong. Kahne is a great cookie-cutter-track driver and, given the right circumstances, Sadler can be as consistent as they come. Riggs hasn't transferred his Busch Series success to Nextel Cup yet, but he showed improvement on the mile-and-a-half tracks. All Dodge teams will have to deal with the eventual changeover from Chargers to Avengers, which will be the model used by Dodge when the series goes to the Car of Tomorrow. The fact is, Dodge teams simply haven't had the same level of success since leaving behind the Intrepid (a brand Dodge no longer manufactures), and among all Dodge drivers only Kahne has ever really seemed comfortable in the Charger. Will Kahne dominate the cookie-cutter tracks where he'll still be driving his Chargers? And will he fall off during the Car of Tomorrow events later in the year, where the Avengers will be used? Will Sadler generate chemistry where Mayfield found none? It should be a wild year at Evernham.
9 - Kasey Kahne
Best Finish: 1st
Poles, top-5s, top-10s, DNFs: 6, 12, 19, 6