Jeff, thanks for being one of the most outspoken and influential drivers in the garage in the 2000s. Your input has been valuable on many levels and it was natural that you'd progress into a second career that may make you more influential -- at least with the public -- than you were before.
Yeah, we know you're going part-time next year, so you'll be around. But this is going to be a transition year. And it feels fair to reflect now rather than after a year of 10 or so races, don't you think?
That 1999 season was impressive. Six wins, 23 top 10s. Yet it was good for fifth. The drivers at the top of the standings that year were that good. Dale Jarrett, the champion, had 29 top 10 finishes in 34 races. Bobby Labonte and Mark Martin had 26. Tony Stewart was just ahead of you and he had 21. That's pretty elite company.
But what's more impressive is the rebirth you had with Richard Childress Racing. After parting with Roush in the middle of 2004 -- a guy named Carl Edwards started driving the No. 99 -- you landed at RCR and finished the season 18th. And were 18th the season after that.
Then you reeled off three straight seasons in the top 10. In 2006, after you won at Dover, it really looked like you were going to be a threat for that Cup title that had always eluded you.
But after 2008, there was just one more Chase appearance. One in 2010 that's remembered more for this than anything else:
Despite the second round of struggles, you stayed as one of the most influential drivers in the garage. That's a testament to your personality and your smarts. And your timing; you were successful in both the late 1990s and the mid-2000s. NASCAR was quite different in each time period.
If you don't start in the Daytona 500, it'll be the first time in 629 races you won't be in the field. But starting in 2015, you'll be imparting your wisdom to NASCAR viewers 20 weeks a year. You've set a high standard for yourself. But that high standard made you a natural fit to be the voice of NASCAR for years to come.
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Previous Reviews: No. 22 Marcos Ambrose, No. 23 Denny Hamlin, No. 24 Casey Mears, No. 25 Mark Martin, No. 26 David Gilliland, No. 27 Danica Patrick, No. 28 David Ragan, No. 29 Tony Stewart, No. 30 Dave Blaney
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