At a Glance: A weekly look at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Top 10 drivers DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 16, 2004) -- The following is a glance at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 in the championship heading into Sunday's Subway 400 at North...
At a Glance: A weekly look at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Top 10 drivers
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 16, 2004) -- The following is a glance at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 in the championship heading into Sunday's Subway 400 at North Carolina Speedway, Race 2 of 36 on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule. The first 26 races of the season will determine which drivers will be part of the "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup" in the final 10 races. The drivers who are in the NASCAR Top 10 or within 400 points of the leader after those 26 races will vie for the series title in the "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup."
No. 1 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
(No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet)
Team: Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Points: 185. Preseason Top 10 ranking: 4. Earnhardt Jr. captured Sunday's Daytona 500 before an estimated crowd of 200,000 to secure the No. 1 ranking for the first time in his career. Earnhardt Jr., a former two-time NASCAR Busch Series champion whose first fulltime season in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series was 2000, had previously been as high as No. 2 in the series championship, which he held for 19 race weeks during last season. The victory was the 10th of his career and second championship-points race win at Daytona (Pepsi 400 in 2001). The last driver to win the Daytona 500 and go on to the championship that same season was Jeff Gordon in 1997. Earnhardt Jr. will be tasked to maintain the No. 1 ranking for another week as he heads to the Subway 400 at North Carolina Speedway. In eight career starts, he has finished 33rd or worse four times and is still chasing his first top-10 finish at the 1.017-mile track. His personal-best effort is 13th, which came in November of last season.
No. 2 -- Tony Stewart
(No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet)
Team Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 180 (-5). Preseason Top 10 ranking: 5. Stewart owns the No. 2 ranking in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series following a runner-up finish to Earnhardt Jr. in the Daytona 500. It matches the highest ranking for the 2002 series champion since he was ranked No. 2 following Atlanta and Darlington last March. It also was a personal-best effort in the Daytona 500, topping his previous best of sixth (twice). Stewart finished 20th in last season's Subway 400, but has registered top-10 finishes in six of his last eight starts at Rockingham. He has finished a personal best of fourth on three occasions, all of which have come in this event (2000, '01, '02).
No. 3 -- Scott Wimmer
(No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge)
Team: Bill Davis Racing. Points: 170 (-15). Preseason Top 10 ranking: NR. Wimmer, who ran fulltime for owner Bill Davis in the NASCAR Busch Series last season, had a stunning season debut as he opened his first full season in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series. Wimmer finished third in the Daytona 500 to earn the No. 3 ranking as well as take the initial lead in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year race between six drivers. His finish was the best by a rookie since Jeff Gordon finished fifth in 1993. Wimmer has made one career start at Rockingham, starting 37th and finishing 26th in November of last season.
No. 4 -- Kevin Harvick
(No. 29 GM Goodwrench
Team: Richard Childress Racing. Points: 165 (-20). Preseason Top 10 ranking: 6. Harvick finished fourth in the Daytona 500, matching his finish and ranking following this race a year ago that ultimately resulted in a career-best finish of fifth in the series championship. It also was his third consecutive top-10 finish at Daytona. While he has been solid at Daytona, he heads to a track that he has struggled with thus far in his career. He is still seeking his first top-10 finish at Rockingham after six career starts. His best effort is 14th, which came in this event in 2001.
No. 5 -- Jimmie Johnson
(No. 48 Lowe's
Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 160 (-25). Preseason Top 10 ranking: 3. Johnson finished fifth in the Daytona 500 to extend the longest active streak for most consecutive weeks in the top 10 in the championship. Johnson, who was the only driver to spend all 36 weeks in the top 10 last season en route to a No. 2 final ranking, has been ranked among the top 10 for 70 consecutive weeks. The mark ranks No. 9 in NASCAR modern-era history. Johnson will look to extend the streak to 71 weeks in a row as he heads to Rockingham. After finishing 28th or worse in his first two career starts at the 1.017-mile oval, he has rebounded to post top-10 finishes in his last two. He finished eighth in this event last season and followed up with a runner-up effort in the fall race.
No. 6 -- Joe Nemechek
(No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet)
Team: MB2 Motorsports. Points: 150 (-35). Preseason Top 10 ranking: NR. Nemechek, who joined MB2 Motorsports for the final four races of the 2003 season before becoming the team's fulltime driver this year, jumped out to a great start for the organization with a sixth-place finish in the Daytona 500. He was ranked among the top 10 just once last season, situated at No. 9 following Darlington in March. Nemechek heads to Rockingham, where he captured one of his three career wins in the fall of 2001. However, since that victory he has not cracked the top 20 in four starts, his best being 23rd in this race last season.
No. 7 -- Jeff Gordon
(No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet)
Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 147 (-38). Preseason Top 10 ranking: 2. Gordon, a four-time series champion who spent 32 of 36 weeks in the top 10 last season en route to a No. 4 final ranking, finished eighth in the Daytona 500, but is ranked No. 7 as a result of the five bonus points for leading a lap. The bonus allowed him to slip past Elliott Sadler by a point despite being a finishing position behind him. Gordon is a four-time winner at Rockingham, including three which have come in this event, and 10 top-10 finishes in 22 career starts. However, he has not finished better than 15th in three of his last five starts at Rockingham.
No. 8 -- Elliott Sadler
(No. 38 M&M's Ford)
Team: Robert Yates Racing. Points: 146 (-39). Preseason Top 10 ranking NR. Sadler is the first of the two Robert Yates Racing entries to earn a position in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10, earning the No. 8 ranking with a seventh-place finish in the Daytona 500. It is his first appearance in the top 10 since being ranked No. 10 following California in late April of last season. Sadler finally broke through at Rockingham during last season's Subway 400 with a ninth-place finish. The performance is his first and only top-10 finish in 10 career starts.
No. 9 -- Matt Kenseth
(No. 17 DeWalt Power Tools Ford)
Team: Roush Racing. Points: 143 (-42). Preseason Top 10 ranking: 7. Kenseth, the defending series champion who had a series-high 25 top-10 finishes in 2003, collected his first of the new season with a ninth-place finish in the Daytona 500. Dating to last season, he has been in the top 10 for 36 consecutive weeks. The only time he was out of the top 10 last season ironically was after the Daytona 500 when he was No. 19, but moved to No. 6 following Rockingham. He has been particularly strong at The Rock as he arrives riding a streak of five consecutive top-10 finishes. Three of those have been among the top five, including a victory in this event in 2002.
No. 10 -- Dale Jarrett
(No. 88 UPS Ford)
Team: Robert Yates Racing. Points: 134 (-51). Preseason Top 10 ranking: NR. Jarrett, the 1999 series champion, showed immediate signs of rebounding from last year's disappointing 26th-place finish in the championship with a 10th-place effort at Daytona. It marks his first time in the top 10 since the first three races of the 2003 season. Look for Jarrett to possibly make a move this week as he has been exceptional at Rockingham. He is the defending champion of the Subway 400 and has 12 top-five finishes in his last 16 starts at the 1.017-mile oval. Included in that run was a tear of six runner-up finishes in eight starts from Feb. of 1996 through Feb. of 1999.
Top 10 following Daytona (Race 1 of 36):
1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 185 pts
2. Tony Stewart 180 (-5)
3. Scott Wimmer 170 (-15)
4. Kevin Harvick 165 (-20)
5. Jimmie Johnson 160 (-25)
6. Joe Nemechek 150 (-35)
7. Jeff Gordon 147 (-38)
8. Elliott Sadler 146 (-39)
9. Matt Kenseth 143 (-42)
10. Dale Jarrett 134 (-51)
Weeks at No. 1: Earnhardt Jr., 1.
Most weeks in the Top 10: 10 drivers tied at 1.
New arrivals this week in the Top 10: N/A.
Dropped out of the Top 10: N/A.
Closing in on the Top 10: No. 11 Bobby Labonte (130, -4 out of 10th), No. 12 John Andretti (129, -5), No. 13 Greg Biffle (127, -7).