2006 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series
The 2006 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series season started at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday, February 12 with the Budweiser Shootout and ended on Monday, November 20, with the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The Chase for the Nextel Cup began with the Sylvania 300 on Sunday, September 17, at New Hampshire International Speedway.
Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing, was the defending series champion, but lost out in defending his championship this year, having finished outside of the top 10 in the points standings after the Chevy Rock and Roll 400.
He did, however, claim a $1 million (US) bonus as the best finisher outside the Chase for the Nextel Cup drivers, winning three of the ten Chase races.
By the end of the season Chevrolet had captured 23 victories, and 270 points to win the NASCAR Manufacturers' Championship over Ford.
The 2006 season was the first for Ford's all-new Fusion, which replaced the Taurus both in NASCAR and in showrooms. Also, a new version of the Chevrolet Monte Carlo, called the Monte Carlo Super Sport (SS for short) debuted on the circuit.
Several new drivers were in their first stint as regulars on the Nextel Cup circuit in 2006. After winning back-to-back Busch Series championships in 2004 and 2005, Martin Truex Jr. drove the No. 1 Chevrolet for Dale Earnhardt, Inc. (DEI). Vacated by Michael Waltrip, their No. 15 car was driven by rookie Paul Menard and ran a part-time schedule of only seven races.
The #8 car was raced by DEI from 1984 with Dale Earnhardt the driver. The car ran from 1984 to 1988 and then again from 2002 to 2008. In 2004 and 2005, it won two championships with Martin Truex, Jr. driving in 2004 and 2005. The car has been driven by Dale Earnhardt, Jody Ridley, Kenny Wallace, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Hank Parker, Jr., Steve Park, Tony Stewart, Martin Truex, Jr. and Kerry Earnhardt.
2004 Nextel Cup champion Kurt Busch, who was taken over by Jamie McMurray in Roush Racing's No.26 (formerly 97) Ford, replaced a retired Rusty Wallace in the No. 2 Dodge for Penske Racing. In addition, Mark Martin continued his "Salute to You" tour for Roush's No.6 car.