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2006 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Raybestos Rookie of the Year Preview - Middle of the Pack

Yeley, Stremme and Sorenson are talented, but just just come up short

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Here in the middle of the pack is where the battle for the 2006 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors really heats up. The remaining drivers are JJ Yeley, David Stremme, Reed Sorenson, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr.. They could all win the 2006 rookie title. Who are the drivers that just haven't impressed enough to be my pick in 2006? These are the middle three.

The Middle of the Rookie Pack

These drivers all have very strong points. They are all very talented, but two have never shown that they can find victory lane in NASCAR's higher levels and one is joining a team that doesn't have the tools to launch him into the highest echelon of 2006 rookies. These drivers could surprise me in 2005 (and I wouldn't be all that surprised) but I just can't rank them above the true cream of the 2006 crop.

JJ Yeley

JJ Yeley has driving credentials very similar to his teammate Tony Stewart. JJ Yeley was the second driver in history to win the USAC Triple Crown. (win the championship in all three USAC series in the same year) Tony Stewart was the first.

Yeley will be taking over the Joe Gibbs Racing #18 that Bobby Labonte drove in 2005. Bobby left at the end of 2005 to drive the famous Petty Enterprises #43.

So why does a multi-talented driver end up in the bottom half of this list? JJ Yeley just hasn't impressed in the full-bodied race cars. He comes to the NEXTEL Cup series off of an 11th place points finish in the 2005 Busch series standings. No wins and just four top five finishes highlight that campaign.

I really wanted to like JJ Yeley, but he just hasn't shown that he can get it done in NASCAR.

David Stremme

David Stremme is the kind of guy you just have to like. He's genuinely a nice person and hard working on the race team. You'll find him at the race shop whenever possible doing what he can to help out. He doesn't view his job as just driving the car, but he really feels as part of the team.

Stremme will be taking over the #40 Ganassi/Sabates Coors Light Dodge that Sterling Marlin drove in 2005.

David spent the last two seasons in the Busch Series where he managed five top fives each year. However he has never visited Victory Lane in 91 NASCAR starts. Seven of his nine DNFs in 2005 were because of crashes.

I really would like to put Stremme higher on the list, but his stats just won't allow it. Maybe his Terry Bradshaw owned Busch team was holding him back? I hope that David Stremme can surprise me in 2006, but he'll have to learn how to keep the fenders on the car in order to pull out the Raybestos Rookie of the Year title.

Reed Sorenson

Reed Sorenson finished out the 2005 Busch campaign with two wins and a fourth place points finish. Sorenson will be taking over the Ganassi/Sabates #41 Target car while Casey Mears moves over to the #42 Havoline car that Jamie McMurray abandoned.

Sorenson is unbelievably talented and clearly has a huge future in NASCAR. However, nobody in the entire three car Ganassi stable managed a win in 2005. Also, none of those three drivers (Casey Mears, Jamie McMurray or Sterling Marlin) qualified for the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.

Also this is a three car team fielding two rookies and a career winless driver who is just in his third season in NASCAR's top series. There's not a lot of wisdom and experience available for Sorenson to draw from within his team.

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