DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 20, 2006) -- The following is a rundown of the final NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series top 10 drivers, with Jimmie Johnson wrapping up his first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Championship at the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The...
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 20, 2006) -- The following is a rundown of the final NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series top 10 drivers, with Jimmie Johnson wrapping up his first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Championship at the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The "Chase" was conducted over the final 10 events in NASCAR's 36-race season. The "Chase" included drivers in the top 10 or who were within 400 points of the leader.
No. 1 -- Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 6,475. Johnson, 31, of El Cajon, Calif., won his first series title in his fifth full-time season on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup circuit. He placed ninth in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway to best runner-up Matt Kenseth by 56 points. Johnson had a series-leading 24 top-10 finishes overall in 2006 and six top-10 efforts in Chase races. He started the season with a victory, and became the eighth driver to win the season-opening Daytona 500 and go on to clinch the series title. Johnson ranked among the top 10 for 105 consecutive races, since Atlanta in March of 2004, the sixth-longest streak since the points system was modified in 1975. In addition to the Daytona 500, Johnson also won at Indianapolis -- the sixth driver to win at the Brickyard and go on to the championship. His previous best season ranking was second in 2003 and 2004. Johnson gave teammate Jeff Gordon his series first title as a team owner and locked up No. 6 for co-owner Rick Hendrick. The championship is the first for Johnson crew chief Chad Knaus. Season-to-date Loop Data highlight: Johnson is ranked first in Average Running Position (10.842).
No. 2 -- Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 6,419. Kenseth placed sixth at Homestead to finish second in the series standings, his best showing since winning the championship in 2003. He placed eighth in the rankings in 2004 and seventh last year. Kenseth had five top-10 finishes in 10 Chase events, tying Johnson for the most. Kenseth had 21 top-10 finishes in 2006. He ranked among the top five in the standings since the season's second race, a victory at California, 35 consecutive races ago. He also won races at Dover (June), Michigan (Aug.) and Bristol (Aug.). Season-to-date Loop Data highlight: Kenseth is ranked second in Driver Rating (101.7).
No. 3 -- Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet). Team: Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 6,407. Hamlin finished third at Homestead, virtually locking up Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors. He had seven top-10 finishes in Chase events and 19 top-10 efforts in 2006, the most among rookies. Hamlin was the highest-finishing rookie in 18 of 36 races in 2006, including a sweep of the races at Pocono. He returns to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2007. Season-to-date Loop Data: Hamlin is ranked fifth in Fastest Drivers Early in a Run (8.909).
No. 4 -- Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet): Team: Richard Childress Racing. Points: 6,397. Harvick finished fifth at Homestead in his first Chase outing. He was the only Chase contestant with two victories (No. 11 Tony Stewart also had two Chase wins). Harvick had 20 top-10 finishes in 2006, which marked the first Chase showing for team owner Richard Childress. He ranked among the top 10 in the season's final 30 races. Harvick tied Johnson with five victories this year, at Phoenix (April and Sept.), Watkins Glen (Aug.), Richmond (Sept.) and New Hampshire (Sept). He finished 14th in the 2005 standings. Season-to-date Loop Data highlight: Harvick is ranked fourth in Driver Rating (97.5).
No. 5 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet). Team: Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Points: 6,328. Earnhardt finished 19th at Homestead in his second year of Chase competition; he placed fifth in the standings in 2004 and -- after a one-year split with crew chief Tony Eury Jr. -- was 20th in 2005. He had 17 top-10 finishes in 2006, including one victory, at Richmond in May. Earnhardt has logged a victory every season since he began racing fulltime in 2000. Season-to-date Loop Data highlight: Earnhardt is ranked fourth in Fastest Drivers Late in a Run (9.697).
No. 6 -- Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 6,256. Gordon finished 24th at Homestead to finish sixth in the Chase one year after failing to make the field and placing 11th. He was third in the standings during the inaugural Chase season, in 2003. Gordon had 18 top-10 finishes in 2006. He and No. 8 Kasey Kahne were the only Chase contestants with three DNFs in the series final 10 races. He and Kahne were also the only drivers with two Budweiser poles in two Chase events. Gordon had two victories this season, at Infineon in June and Chicago in July. He has won a race each season since running his first full-time season in 1994. Season-to-date Loop Data highlight: Gordon is ranked second in Average Running Position (11.023).
No. 7 -- Jeff Burton (No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet). Team: Richard Childress Racing. Points: 6,228. Burton finished 14th at Homestead during his first season as a Chase contestant. He had five top-10 efforts in the season's final 10 races. Burton had 20 top-10 finishes in 2006. He won two races this season, at Dover (Sept.) and New Hampshire (Sept). Burton finished 18th in the series standings in 2004 and 2005. He led in each of the first four Chase races but not in the final six. Burton hadn't won a race since winning twice in 2001. Season-to-date Loop Data highlight: Burton is ranked second in Fastest Drivers Early in a Run (8.097).
No. 8 -- Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge). Team: Evernham Motorsports. Points: 6,183. Kahne finished fourth at Homestead and eighth in the standings. He had 19 top-10 finishes. Kahne won a series-leading six races, at Atlanta (March), Texas (April), twice at Charlotte, Michigan (June) and California (Sept). He earned his way into (his first) Chase by beating Tony Stewart by 16 points. Kahne finished 13th in the series standings in 2004 and 23rd in 2005. Season-to-date Loop Data highlight: Kahne is ranked first in Fastest Drivers on Straightaways (7.139).
No. 9 -- Mark Martin (No. 6 AAA Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 6,168. Martin finished 18th at Homestead, his final race as a full-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup driver. He will compete in designated events next season with MB2 Motorsports. Martin was the series runner-up four times, most recently in 2002. He had 15 top-10 finishes this season. He, Johnson and Kenseth are the only drivers to run in all three Chases. Martin finished fourth in the series standings in 2004 and 2005. Season-to-date Loop Data highlight: Martin is ranked eighth in Average Running Position (13.870).
No. 10 -- Kyle Busch (No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 6,027. Busch finished 38th at Homestead in his second year in full-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup competition. He finished 20th in the 2005 series standings. Busch had 18 top-10 finishes in 2006. He had three top-10 Chase finishes in his first year of Chase competition. Busch won one race this season, at New Hampshire in July. Season-to-date Loop Data highlight: Busch is ranked sixth in Fastest Drivers Late in a Run (10.00).
Top 10 following Homestead (race 36 of 36):
1. Jimmie Johnson 6,475 (pts)
2. Matt Kenseth 6,419
3. Denny Hamlin* 6,407
4. Kevin Harvick 6,397
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 6,328
6. Jeff Gordon 6,256
7. Jeff Burton 6,228
8. Kasey Kahne 6,183
9. Mark Martin 6,168
10. Kyle Busch 6,027
Weeks at No. 1: Johnson (3 Chase; 25 overall).
11. Tony Stewart 4,727
* Denotes Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate.