A weekly look at NASCAR Winston Cup's top 10 drivers. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 2, 2003) -- The following is a glance at the NASCAR Top 10 in the championship heading into Saturday evening's Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond International ...
A weekly look at NASCAR Winston Cup's top 10 drivers.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 2, 2003) -- The following is a glance at the NASCAR Top 10 in the championship heading into Saturday evening's Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond International Raceway, Race 26 of 36 on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series schedule. Each driver also has an outlook for projected movement in the NASCAR Top 10 based on past performance at this weekend's track.
No. 1 -- Matt Kenseth
(No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Ford), Roush Racing. Points: 3718. Previous ranking: 1. Kenseth finished 14th at Sunday's Mountain Dew Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway to snap a four-race run of consecutive top-10 finishes. Kenseth, however, was able to pad his lead over No. 2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 38 points and increase the advantage to a season-high 389 points. He has spent 22 consecutive race weeks ranked No. 1 and has been in the NASCAR Top 10 for 24 of the 25 race weeks. He enters Richmond having posted top-10 finishes in his last three starts and four of the last five at the .75-mile oval. He is the defending champion of the Chevy Rock & Roll 400, having earned the victory after starting 25th and leading 134 laps last September. Earlier this season, he finished seventh. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:
No. 2 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
(No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet), Dale Earnhardt Inc. Points: 3329. Previous ranking: 2. Earnhardt Jr. finished 25th at Darlington and continued to lose ground on No. 1 Matt Kenseth. He lost 38 points to Kenseth at Darlington and 131 in the last three races to fall 389 points behind in his pursuit of the No. 1 ranking. He remains at No. 2 for the sixth consecutive race week and among the top three in the title chase for the 19th race week in a row. He may be able to bounce back at Richmond, where he has six top-10 finishes in eight career starts, including a win in the spring race of 2000. He finished fourth in this event last year and followed with a third-place effort earlier this season. He also has started eighth or better in three of his last four appearances at Richmond. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:
No. 3 -- Kevin Harvick
(No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet), Richard Childress Racing. Points: 3303. Previous ranking: 3. Harvick finished second to Terry Labonte at Darlington for his third consecutive runner-up finish and fifth top-five effort in a row. The five-race tear has moved him from seventh to a season-best third for the second straight week in the NASCAR Top 10 and has allowed him to trim 119 points from No. 1 Matt Kenseth's advantage during that stretch. He trails Kenseth by 415 points and has closed to 26 points of unseating Dale Earnhardt Jr. at No. 2 heading into Richmond. Harvick has not started better than 22nd in five career appearances at Richmond, but has managed a pair of top-10 finishes. His best effort at the .75-mile oval came in this event in 2001 when he finished second. His other top-10 finish came in his most recent appearance in May when he finished sixth after starting 36th. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: " (neutral).
No. 4 -- Jimmie Johnson
(No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet), Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 3233. Previous ranking: 4. Johnson finished third at Darlington for his third top-five finish in the last four races to secure the No. 4 ranking for the second race week in a row. The ranking is one position shy of his season-best ranking of third, which he held for the first three races of the season, and he is currently 70 points behind No. 3 Kevin Harvick. Overall, he is one of only two drivers -- No. 9 Michael Waltrip is the other -- to be ranked in the NASCAR Top 10 for all 25 race weeks and has been among the top 10 in the championship for 58 consecutive races, dating to the spring Atlanta race of last season. It is currently the longest streak among active drivers in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. In three career starts at Richmond, he owns a Bud Pole from last year's Chevy Rock & Roll 400 but still seeks his first top-10 finish. His best finish also came in last year's fall event when he finished 13th. He was 19th in the spring this season. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: --
No. 5 -- Jeff Gordon
(No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet), Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 3127. Previous ranking: 5. Gordon was unable to break out of his slump at Darlington, where he finished 32nd for his fourth consecutive finish of 28th or worse. He maintained the No. 5 ranking for the second race week in a row and has been among the top five in the championship for 18 consecutive race weeks. Gordon, with one finish better than 24th in his last seven races (4th at Indianapolis), has lost 426 points to No. 1 Matt Kenseth during that span and currently trails by 591. He also finds himself 106 points behind No. 4 Jimmie Johnson. Gordon will look to rebound at Richmond, where he has recorded 13 top-10 finishes -- including two victories (spring of 1996 and fall of 2000) -- in 21 career starts. Of those 13 top-10 finishes, only one has come in his last four starts (7th in spring of 2002). In his two most recent appearances, he finished 40th in this event last season and 16th in this season's spring race. He has led at Richmond in 14 of his 21 starts and has started among the top 10 in 15 of his last 17. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: " (neutral).
No. 6 -- Kurt Busch
(No. 97 Rubbermaid Ford), Roush Racing. Points: 3114. Previous ranking: 6. Busch, coming off his fourth victory of the season at Bristol, finished 13th at Darlington to remain No. 6 for the second consecutive race week. He also closed to 13 points of No. 5 Jeff Gordon and is looking to get back among the top five in the title race since being ranked fifth following his win at Michigan in June. Busch has just one top-10 finish in five career starts at Richmond, but the performance came in his most recent outing at the .75-mile oval. After starting no better than 22nd and finishing no better than 18th in his previous four starts, Busch qualified seventh and finished eighth. He also led 17 laps, his first laps led at Richmond. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: " (neutral).
No. 7 -- Ryan Newman
(No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge), Penske Racing South. Points: 3075. Previous ranking: 7. Newman finished 23rd at Darlington for just his second performance outside the top 10 in the last eight races. The finish, his worst since a 41st at Michigan in June, did not affect his season-best ranking of No. 7, which he continued to secure for the second race week in a row. He is just 39 points shy of the No. 6 ranking held by Kurt Busch as he prepares for Richmond. He finished second in both events of 2002 at the .75-mile oval and led a combined 193 laps in the process. He qualified fifth in this season's spring event and led 24 laps, but finished 39th. He has started 11th or better in all three starts. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:
No. 8 -- Bobby Labonte
(No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet), Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 3053. Previous ranking: 9. Labonte snapped out of a seven-race slump with a seventh-place finish at Darlington, his first top-10 performance since a fifth at the Pepsi 400 in early July. The effort was timely as he was able to improve one position in the NASCAR Top 10, moving to No. 8 and supplanting Michael Waltrip. Despite the recent slump, he heads to Richmond just 22 points behind No. 7 Ryan Newman, 61 behind No. 6 Kurt Busch and 74 behind No. 5 Jeff Gordon. He has seven top-10 finishes in 21 career starts, including three coming in his last five. He posted a pair of top-10 efforts in 2001, was shut out in 2002 and rebounded with a runner-up finish in this season's spring race. He also led 62 laps, his first at the track since 2000. He has been a strong qualifier at Richmond, with nine top-10 starts in his last 10 appearances. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:
No. 9 -- Michael Waltrip
(No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet), Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Points: 3012. Previous ranking: 8. Waltrip finished 37th at Darlington to drop one position to No. 9 in the NASCAR Top 10. The finish, coupled with a 42nd the previous week at Bristol, has cost him four positions in the rankings over that brief span. However, he still remains one of two drivers -- No. 4 Jimmie Johnson is the other -- to be ranked among the NASCAR Top 10 for the entire season. He has the most career starts at Richmond (35) among the NASCAR Top 10 drivers, but is one of only two not to have recorded a top-10 finish. The other is Johnson, who has just three career starts at the .75-mile oval. His best finish at Richmond is 12th on three occasions, including his most recent appearance in May. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: --
No. 10 -- Tony Stewart
(No. 20 The Home Depot Chevrolet), Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 2936. Previous ranking: 11. Stewart, the reigning NASCAR Winston Cup champion, finished 12th at Darlington to move back into the NASCAR Top 10 after a one-month absence. Stewart was situated at No. 11 for the past three race weeks, but moved up one position with his effort at Darlington and replaced Robby Gordon at No. 10. It is his first appearance in the NASCAR Top 10 since being ranked No. 9 following New Hampshire on July 20. He is 76 points behind No. 9 Michael Waltrip, but has No. 11 Terry Labonte, winner of Sunday's Mountain Dew Southern 500, lurking just one point behind. He has enjoyed success at Richmond with three wins and six top-10 performances overall in his first seven career starts, but has found the .75-mile oval difficult in his two most recent appearances. He has posted DNFs (Did Not Finish) in both of those races, finishing 30th in last season's Chevy Rock & Roll 400 and 41st in this season's spring race. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: " (neutral).
NASCAR Top 10 this week:
1. Matt Kenseth 3718 points
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 3329 (-389)
3. Kevin Harvick 3303 (-415)
4. Jimmie Johnson 3233 (-485)
5. Jeff Gordon 3127 (-591)
6. Kurt Busch 3114 (-604)
7. Ryan Newman 3075 (-643)
8. Bobby Labonte 3053 (-665)
9. Michael Waltrip 3012 (-706)
10. Tony Stewart 2936 (-782)
Weeks at No. 1: Kenseth, 22; Waltrip, 2; Busch, 1.
New arrivals in the NASCAR Top 10 this week: No. 10 Stewart.
Most weeks in the NASCAR Top 10: Waltrip, Johnson, 25; Kenseth, Busch, 24; Earnhardt Jr., Harvick, 22; J. Gordon 21.
Largest gain among the NASCAR Top 10: No. 8 B. Labonte, No. 10 Stewart, 1 position.
Dropped out of the NASCAR Top 10 this week: No. 10 R. Gordon.