Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup: Texas DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 30, 2006) -- The following is a rundown of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 heading into Sunday's Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, the eighth event of the 10 that make up...
Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup: Texas
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 30, 2006) -- The following is a rundown of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 heading into Sunday's Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, the eighth event of the 10 that make up the "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup."
The Dickies 500 (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC) is the 34th of 36 races on the series' schedule. The first 26 races of the season determined the drivers involved in the third annual Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup contested over the final 10 races. The "Chase" includes drivers in the top 10 and any within 400 points of the standings' leader.
No. 1 -- Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 6,008. Kenseth's fourth-place finish in Atlanta was his second top-five finish during the first seven races of the Chase -- and enough to maintain a narrow 26-point lead in the standings. At Texas Motor Speedway, the next stop on the schedule, the 2003 series champion has performed well. Kenseth has two consecutive top-three finishes in his last two races at Texas. Looking ahead to the last two races, Kenseth is one of four Chase drivers with wins at both Phoenix International Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway. Season-to-date Loop Data highlight: Kenseth is ranked first in Driver Rating (103.1).
No. 2 -- Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 5,982. Johnson gained another position in the standings after finishing second in Atlanta. Two weeks earlier, he was ranked seventh. Johnson, who predicted that the 2006 title won't be decided until the very last lap of the season finale at Homestead-Miami, sits 26 points behind Kenseth -- the smallest margin between first and second after seven events, in the three-year history of the Chase. Johnson has been a consistent finisher at Texas, with top-10 finishes in five of his six races there. Season-to-date Loop Data highlight: Johnson has passed the most number of cars running in the Top 15, while under a green flag, with 1,843 Quality Passes.
No. 3 -- Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet). Team: Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 5,943. Hamlin's remarkable rookie season continued in Atlanta, where he finished eighth to advance one position in the standings. It's been 40 years since a rookie driver finished in the top three in the standings (James Hylton, second in 1966) and Hamlin is making a major statement with his run towards the top. Season-to-date Loop Data highlight: Hamlin is ranked fourth in Fastest Drivers Early in a Run (Average Rank: 8.800).
No. 4 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet). Team: Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Points: 5,924. Earnhardt finished third in Atlanta and advanced one spot in the standings. In his previous Chase appearance in 2004, Earnhardt was ranked as high as third with two races remaining. Texas is a favorite for Earnhardt, who captured his first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup victory there in 2000. More recently, Earnhardt has just one top-five finish in his last four races at Texas; he finished fourth in April 2004. Season-to-date Loop Data highlight: Earnhardt leads all drivers in Passes in Turn 4 (409).
No. 5 -- Jeff Burton (No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet). Team: Richard Childress Racing. Points: 5,924. Burton ties Earnhardt with 5,924 points this week, but yields the position with fewer top-five finishes. The 2006 season has been a turnaround year for Burton and his Richard Childress Racing team. His performances at Texas symbolize that rebound. In five previous Texas races, before joining RCR in mid-2005, Burton recorded no top-10 finishes. He placed 30th in his first Texas start with RCR in last year's Dickies 500, but returned in April to finish sixth. Turnaround seemingly complete, Burton and his team are focused on returning RCR to its championship-winning ways. Season-to-date Loop Data highlight: Burton has the third-best percentage of Laps in the Top 15 (7,279 laps, 74.7 percent of Laps in the Top 15).
No. 6 -- Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet): Team: Richard Childress Racing. Points: 5,887. Harvick's disappointing 31st-place finish in Atlanta dropped him to sixth in the standings with three races remaining. It's a major late-season hurdle for Harvick, but not impossible to overcome in today's ultra-close Chase environment. Harvick has two top-10 finishes in seven starts at Texas. Season-to-date Loop Data highlight: Harvick is ranked first in Fastest Drivers on Restarts (Average rank: 11.030).
No. 7 -- Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 5,862. Gordon improved two positions in the standings with his sixth-place finish in Atlanta and kept the Chase as close as it's ever been. Gordon had a string of four consecutive top-five finishes at Texas from 2001-04, but has not finished higher than 14th there in three races since. Gordon is winless at Texas in 11 races. In fact, Gordon has won races at every track on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup schedule -- except for the three tracks remaining in the Chase. Season-to-date Loop Data highlight: Gordon is ranked first in Average Running Position (10.784).
No. 8 -- Mark Martin (No. 6 AAA Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 5,807. An accident in Atlanta dropped Martin to eighth place in the standings. With each week of the Chase, which is shaping up to be the closest ever, Martin's 201-point deficit seems rather manageable. This is especially true at Texas, where he finished second in the 2005 Dickies 500 last November. Season-to-date Loop Data highlight: Martin is ranked first in Driver Performance at Upcoming Tracks in the Chase (Driver Rating at Upcoming Tracks in the Chase: 102.7).
No. 9 -- Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge). Team: Evernham Motorsports. Points: 5,798. Troubles in Atlanta cost Kahne a position as he dropped to ninth place this week. It has been a tale of two Chases for Kahne, who began the 10-race stretch with a respectable 16th place at New Hampshire in September. He finished 33rd at Dover and 38th at Kansas before rebounding with a second-place finish at Talladega and a win at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Based on past performance, the roller coaster has the potential to continue after his 38th-place finish in Atlanta: Kahne won the last race at Texas in April. Season-to-date Loop Data highlight: Kahne is ranked first in Fastest Drivers on Straightaways (Average rank: 7.560).
No. 10 -- Kyle Busch (No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 5,759. Busch, who finished 27th in Atlanta, was one of three drivers who failed to either advance or improve in the standings this week. The others included Matt Kenseth, who maintained his lead, and Jeff Burton, who held onto fifth place. Busch keeps the 10th spot for the second consecutive week. In doing so, he has established a new Chase standard. In the three-year history of the Chase, Busch's 249-point deficit is the closest margin for the 10th-place driver in the Chase with three races remaining. Busch hasn't finished better than 15th in three starts at Texas. Season-to-date Loop Data highlight: Busch is ranked first in Passes in Turns 1 and 2 (27 passes).
Top 10 following Atlanta (race 33 of 36):
1. Matt Kenseth 6,008 (pts)
2. Jimmie Johnson 5,982 (-26)
3. Denny Hamlin* 5,943 (-65)
4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 5,924 (-84)
5. Jeff Burton 5,924 (-84)
6. Kevin Harvick 5,887 (-121)
7. Jeff Gordon 5,862 (-146)
8. Mark Martin 5,807 (-201)
9. Kasey Kahne 5,798 (-210)
10. Kyle Busch 5,759 (-249)
Weeks at No. 1: Kenseth (2).
Contending for 11th:
11. Tony Stewart 4,298
12. Carl Edwards 4,013
13. Greg Biffle 3,771
14. Casey Mears 3,616
15. Brian Vickers 3,589
* Denotes Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate.