Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

From Tony's Ups to Kurt's Downs, 2005 a Wild Ride; despite Finishing Season without Two Top Cup Stars, NASCAR Full of Story Lines

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

From Tony's Ups to Kurt's Downs, 2005 a Wild Ride; despite Finishing Season without Two Top Cup Stars, NASCAR Full of Story Lines

Article excerpt

Byline: DON COBLE

HOMESTEAD -- A backflip. A traffic ticket. Failed drug tests. A championship without Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Jeff Gordon. Roush Racing. Farewell tours. A retirement about-face.

A deserving and gracious champion.

This NASCAR Nextel Cup Series season had it all. From thrown helmets to tearful hugs, the season had memorable kinds of ups and downs.

It started with Jeff Gordon's familiar face in Victory Lane at the Daytona 500 and ended with future star Greg Biffle winning the Ford 400. In the middle was a new and improved Tony Stewart, doing all the things necessary to win his second championship in four years.

Greg Biffle won a series-best six races to become the early favorite to win next year's Chase for the Championship. If not for a loose lug nut at Texas Motor Speedway last month, he could have won the championship this year. The unscheduled pit stop at Texas put him one lap down and cost him 50 points. He lost to Stewart by 35.

Biffle's problem at Texas amplified what the Chase has become -- a race to avoid trouble. Stewart didn't have the fastest car in the playoffs; he had the car that avoided the most problems. The Chase has become like Saturday at Augusta National -- moving day. It's a time when drivers race themselves out of contention until there is one man standing.

The sport also was forced to deal with some problems off the track. Busch Series driver Shane Hmiel was suspended for a second violation of NASCAR's substance-abuse policy.

Defending Cup champion Kurt Busch was suspended by his race team for the last two races after he was cited for reckless driving near Phoenix International Speedway.

Car owner Jack Roush said Busch had used up his "equity" with him and the team's sponsors. Busch admitted he was combative with the arresting officers, even calling one of them a Jeff Gordon fan.

Speaking of Gordon, the Chase for the Championship raced on without him. Earnhardt Jr. was missing as well. At the same time, Roush had all five of his teams in the playoffs, prompting NASCAR to make a rule that limits the number of teams one owner can have to four.

Without Gordon and Earnhardt Jr. …

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