Phoenix: Top ten with little point difference

* Little point differential means big bucks in the NASCAR Top 10 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 29, 2003) -- There is nothing dry about Sunday's Checker Auto Parts 500 in the desert setting of Phoenix International Raceway. NASCAR Top 10 leader...

* Little point differential means big bucks in the NASCAR Top 10

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 29, 2003) -- There is nothing dry about Sunday's Checker Auto Parts 500 in the desert setting of Phoenix International Raceway.

NASCAR Top 10 leader Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford) is the defending race champion. And as the point leader, is the one driver who can walk away with an extra $340,000 with a victory thanks to the record Winston Leader Bonus, which is paid to a race winner if he also leads the point standings.

And while on the subject of money, there's plenty on the line for those who find themselves locked in a tight battle for position within the NASCAR Top 10 with three races to go.

Only four points separate second-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) from third-place Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet), and just eight points stand between Earnhardt and fourth-place Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet). Four-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) lurks in fifth, 30 points shy of his teammate.

Those precious eight points between slots 2-4 translate into a difference of $625,000 in winnings come Dec. 5 and center stage at the Waldorf=Astoria Hotel in New York City where the 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion and the rest of the NASCAR Top 10 will be honored.

Two former champions, Bill Elliott (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge) and Terry Labonte (No. 5 Kellogg's/got milk? Chevrolet) are in ninth and 10th place, respectively, this week. They're separated by only six points but share a lengthy stretch where each has missed being in New York in December. Elliott hasn't finished in the NASCAR Top 10 since 1997, while Labonte has been absent from the festivities since 1998. Both veteran drivers will try to fend off one of the six "young guns" who find themselves in the thick of this year's chase -- Kurt Busch (No. 97 Rubbermaid Ford). Busch is in 11th place this week, only 26 points behind Labonte.

Perhaps as surprising as the comebacks of Elliott and Labonte are those drivers who, for years, have been staples in the NASCAR Top 10, but this season are out of the mix, some for the first time in more than a decade.

Rusty Wallace (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) the 1989 NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion, could miss the NASCAR Top 10 cut for the first time since 1992. Mark Martin (No. 6 Viagra Ford) finished second a year ago and was a constant in the prestigious group from 1989-2000. Ricky Rudd (No. 28 Motorcraft Ford) has ranked in the NASCAR Top 10 for the past three years and 19 of the previous 23 seasons. And Dale Jarrett (No. 88 UPS Ford), the 1999 champion, hasn't missed a trip to New York since 1995.

-nascar-

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Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Terry Labonte , Rusty Wallace , Kevin Harvick , Kurt Busch , Jimmie Johnson , Mark Martin