NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 - July 19, 2004 The following is a glance at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 in the championship entering Sunday's Siemens 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway (1:30 p.m. ET, TNT), Race 19 of 36 on the...
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 - July 19, 2004
The following is a glance at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 in the championship entering Sunday's Siemens 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway (1:30 p.m. ET, TNT), Race 19 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 -- Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 2720. Previous ranking: 1. Johnson is ranked No. 1 for the fourth consecutive race week and has been a model of consistency in the first half of the season. He has a series-leading 13 top-five finishes in 18 starts, including wins at Darlington, Charlotte and Pocono, and heads into the second half with a run of five consecutive top-five performances and 10 in his last 11 starts. The surge has allowed him to open up a 105-point lead on No. 2 Dale Earnhardt Jr., the largest advantage any No. 1-ranked driver has enjoyed at any point during the first half. Johnson was perfect at New Hampshire last season as he swept both events, a first in the history of the track since it began running two NASCAR NEXTEL Cup events beginning in 1997. He started sixth in this race and led 58 laps en route to the victory. In the fall, he started eighth and led 12 laps en route to the win. Overall, he has finished among the top 15 in each of his four career starts, including among the top 10 in his last three visits (9th, Sept. 2002).
No. 2 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet). Team: Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Points: 2615 (-105). Previous ranking: 2. Earnhardt Jr. remains at No. 2 for the fourth consecutive race week, but has seen No. 1 Jimmie Johnson continue to put distance between the two. Earnhardt Jr. has lost 203 points to Johnson over the past five races as a 98-point lead following Dover has turned into a 105-point deficit following Chicago. However, he has been ranked outside the top three just once this season -- No. 7 following Las Vegas -- and held the No. 1 ranking for a series-leading nine race weeks. This also is his 51st consecutive race week among the Top 10 dating to last season, the second-longest active streak in the series. Earnhardt Jr. was only able to muster one top-10 finish (9th in July 2001) in his first seven career starts at New Hampshire, but rebounded with strong efforts in his two appearances last season. He finished sixth in this race and followed with a fifth-place performance in September, when he led a race-high 120 laps after leading 45 in his previous eight starts at the 1.058-mile oval.
No. 3 -- Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 2478 (-242). Previous ranking: 3. Gordon enters the second half of the season on a tear, with four top-five finishes and Bud Poles in his last five races. Among those top-five finishes were victories at Sonoma and Daytona, his third and fourth wins of the season, respectively. During that stretch, he also has led at least 14 laps in each of those events, including three in which he owned the race high. The run has allowed him to close to 137 points of No. 2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. and 242 of No. 1 Jimmie Johnson. Gordon is a three-time winner at New Hampshire -- his most recent coming in August of 1998 -- and has registered 10 top-10 finishes overall in 18 career starts. He leads all drivers with 1,046 laps led at the 1.058-mile speedway, 441 more than his closest rival. He has led 50 or more laps on nine occasions, including more than 100 five times with the most recent being last season in this event when he led 133 en route to a 24th-place finish. He also is a three-time Bud Pole winner, the most recent coming in July of 2001. Despite his career success at New Hampshire, he has endured his struggles in his last five appearances with no finish better than 14th (Sept. 2002).
No. 4 -- Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet). Team Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 2393 (-302). Previous ranking: 4. Stewart, hoping to ride the momentum of his first victory of the season that came at Chicago, is ranked No. 4 for the second consecutive race week and has been among the top five for the last eight weeks. Stewart, who trails No. 3 Jeff Gordon by 60 points, also remains one of four drivers to be ranked all season long at this stage. Stewart, ranked eighth at this juncture a year ago, had enjoyed a strong early history at New Hampshire with five top-10 finishes, including four of those among the top five, in his first six career starts. He also led 314 laps during that stretch, including a best of 156 en route to his victory in the July race of 2000. Stewart, however, is looking to get back on track at the 1.058-mile oval this weekend as he has been able to post just one top-10 finish (3rd, Sept. 2002) and lead one lap in his last four visits. He finished 22nd in this event last season.
No. 5 -- Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 2321 (-399). Previous ranking: 5. Kenseth, the defending series champion, is one of four drivers to be ranked in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Top 10 all season long and has been ranked among the top five for 17 of the 18 race weeks. Included in that run was four consecutive race weeks ranked No. 1. Overall, he has been ranked among the Top 10 for 53 consecutive race weeks dating to last season, the longest current streak in the series. After recording two wins and nine top-10 finishes in his first 12 races, he has stumbled of late with just one top-10 effort in his last six races and trails No. 4 Tony Stewart by 97 points. However, Kenseth has been solid in recent visits to New Hampshire, with top-10 finishes in four of his last five appearances. Last season, he finished a personal-best of third in this race and followed with a seventh in the September event. He also has led laps in three of his last four appearances, including a high of 77 in July of 2002.
No. 6 -- Bobby Labonte (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet). Team: Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 2278 (-442). Previous ranking: 6. Labonte is situated at No. 6 for the fourth time in the last seven race weeks and has been among the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Top 10 for the last 10 consecutive race weeks. Labonte, fourth in the championship at this point last year, heads to New Hampshire with three top-10 finishes in his last five races and an interim crew chief in Brandon Thomas, who replaces Michael McSwain. Labonte has posted eight top-10 finishes in 18 career starts at New Hampshire, the most recent a fifth-place effort in September of 2002. His best finish at the 1.058-mile oval is second in September of 2000 when he captured his lone Bud Pole at this venue. Overall, Labonte has been a strong qualifier there with 12 starts among the top 10.
No. 7 -- Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&M's Ford). Team: Robert Yates Racing. Points: 2252 (-468). Previous ranking: 8. Sadler arguably has been the biggest surprise of the first half, notching the second win of his career (Texas) and being one of just four drivers to be ranked among the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Top 10 all season long at this point. He was ranked No. 18 a year ago at midseason and his improvement of 11 positions this season is the most by any driver among the Top 10. He already has four top-five finishes on the season, which is two shy of his five-year career total (6) entering the year. Sadler, 26 points behind No. 6 Bobby Labonte, was shut out of the top 10 in his first six career appearances at New Hampshire, but has rebounded to post two in his last four starts. His first came in this event in 2002 when he led his first laps (10) at the 1.058-mile oval and finished 10th. In his most recent visit in September of last season, he finished eighth, bouncing back from a 27th-place effort in July.
No. 8 -- Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet). Team: Richard Childress Racing. Points: 2229 (-491). Previous ranking: 10. Harvick has been situated among the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Top 10 for 13 consecutive weeks, but he also is in the midst of a more impressive streak as he prepares for New Hampshire. He has finished running for 57 consecutive races, which is the longest streak in the modern era (1972-current) without a DNF (Did Not Finish). Harvick, ranked No. 7 in the points a year ago at this stage, has just one top-10 finish in his last five starts, but he has not finished outside of the top 20 during that stretch. He has three top-10 finishes in six career starts at New Hampshire and all have come in this event. He was particularly strong last season when he led 53 laps en route to a runner-up finish to Jimmie Johnson, a personal best at the 1.058-mile oval.
No. 9 -- Kurt Busch (No. 97 IRWIN Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 2211 (-509). Previous ranking: 7. Busch has been among the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Top 10 for 17 of the 18 weeks -- his only week out was following the season-opening Daytona 500 -- but has endured a steady slide down in the rankings as the season reached its midpoint. He was ranked No. 1 following a sixth-place finish at Texas in early April, but since then he has posted just two top-10 finishes in 11 starts and has fallen to No. 9. It is the same position he held in the championship at midseason last year. Despite the struggles, he still finds himself just 18 points behind No. 8 Kevin Harvick and 41 behind No. 7 Elliott Sadler. Busch has a pair of top-10 finishes at New Hampshire in six career starts and both came during the 2002 season. He finished eighth in the July event and finished with a runner-up performance in September. Last season, he finished 11th in this event.
No. 10 -- Ryan Newman (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge). Team: Penske Racing South. Points: 2173 (-547). Previous ranking: 9. Newman, currently holding the No. 10 ranking that assures a berth in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, is looking to get back on track as three drivers have closed to 105 points of his position. His win at Michigan is his only top-10 finish in the last seven races, allowing No. 11 Jeremy Mayfield to close to 65 points, No. 12 Dale Jarrett to 90 and No. 13 Jamie McMurray to 105. However, Newman is known for a second-half surge as he went from 16th in the points at midseason a year ago to ultimately finishing sixth in the championship. A visit to New Hampshire could kick start him as he has been outstanding there with top-10 finishes in all four career appearances, including three among the top five. His first career victory came there Sept. 15, 2002 after posting a fifth in his first visit earlier that season. Last year, he was strong again with a fourth in this race and a ninth in the fall. He also has been solid on the qualifying side with a pair of Bud Poles (Sept. 2002 and '03) and all but one start among the top 10.
Top 10 following Chicago (Race 18 of 36):
1. Jimmie Johnson 2720 points
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2615 (-105)
3. Jeff Gordon 2478 (-242)
4. Tony Stewart 2393 (-302)
5. Matt Kenseth 2321 (-399)
6. Bobby Labonte 2278 (-442)
7. Elliott Sadler 2252 (-468)
8. Kevin Harvick 2229 (-491)
9. Kurt Busch 2211 (-509)
10. Ryan Newman 2173 (-547)
Weeks at No. 1: Earnhardt Jr., 9; Kenseth, Johnson, 4; Busch, 1.
Most weeks in the Top 10: 18 (tie), Kenseth, Earnhardt Jr., Stewart, Sadler.
New arrivals: None.
Biggest gain: No. 8 Harvick, two positions.
Dropped out: None.
Additional championship qualifiers (within 400 points of the leader) at this stage: None.
Chasing the "Chase" (drivers nearest the 400-point mark): No. 11 Jeremy Mayfield, 2108 (-65); No. 12 Dale Jarrett, 2083 (-90); No. 13 Jamie McMurray, 2068 (-105); No. 14 Kasey Kahne, 2044 (-129); No. 15 Mark Martin, 2035 (-138).