Top-10 Rundown 2006-05-08

TOP 10 RUNDOWN A weekly look at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 8, 2006) -- The following is a rundown of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 heading into Saturday's Dodge Charger 500 at Darlington Raceway, the 11th...

TOP 10 RUNDOWN
A weekly look at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 8, 2006) -- The following is a rundown of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 heading into Saturday's Dodge Charger 500 at Darlington Raceway, the 11th of 36 races on the series' schedule (6:30 p.m. ET on FOX).

The first 26 races of the season will determine who will be part of the third annual "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup" in the final 10 races. Drivers who are in the top 10 or within 400 points of the points leader after those 26 races will vie for the 2006 series title in the "Chase."

No. 1 -- Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 1,521. Johnson retained his spot atop the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup standings with his 12th-place finish at Richmond. Johnson and second-ranked Tony Stewart are the only drivers with seven top-10 finishes in 10 races this year. The series' only three-race winner in 2006, he has ranked among the top 10 for 79 consecutive races, since March 2004. Johnson has logged two victories (both in 2004) in seven starts at Darlington; he has six top-10 finishes overall at the South Carolina track. His lone showing outside the top 10 there was 27th in 2003. Johnson has a 7.714 average finish at Darlington, second only to Kasey Kahne (7.0 in three starts). Johnson finished seventh at Darlington a year ago, and has been running at the finish there in all seven starts. Season-to-date Loop Data highlight: Johnson left Richmond improving on his Loop Data statistics ranking third in Driver Rating (100.8) and third in the Closers category improving his position 30 times over the final 10 percent of event's this season.

No. 2 -- Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet). Team: Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 1,466. Stewart slid into second place in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 with a sixth-place run at Richmond. The reigning series champion has led at least one lap in nine of 10 races this season, the only driver to do so. He has finished sixth or better in the last five races. Always a force with which to be reckoned, Stewart has seven top-10 finishes in 13 races at Darlington. On the flip side, he has failed to place better than 10th in his last five starts there. He has finished a career-best fourth at Darlington twice; he was 10th in this race in 2005. He has one DNF at Darlington, a 36th-place showing in 2002. Stewart has led in two of his 13 starts, and has a 12.38 average finish there. Season-to-date Loop Data highlight: Stewart continues to lead all drivers with a Driver Rating of 112.8.

No. 3 -- Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DeWalt Power Tools Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 1,422. Mechanical trouble and a 38th-place finish at Richmond dropped Kenseth one position in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup standings for the second consecutive week. But what a difference a year makes: Ten races into 2005, the former series champion was ranked 24th. Kenseth has three top-10 finishes in 12 starts at Darlington, but he hasn't placed in the top 10 in his last four races there. He finished 26th at Darlington in this race last year. Kenseth, whose best Darlington finish was sixth in 2000, has a 21.83 average finish there. Season-to-date Loop Data highlight: Kenseth ranks second in the Driver Rating category at 105.9.

No. 4 -- Mark Martin (No. 6 AAA Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 1,345. An 11th-place finish at Richmond boosted Martin one spot in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup standings. Martin leads all fulltime rivals with 16 top-five and 24 top-10 finishes in 39 starts at Darlington, including a victory in 1993. He placed fourth in this race last year. Martin, who has a 12.23 average finish at Darlington, has had only one finish outside the top 15 in his last six races there. Season-to-date Loop Data highlight: Martin ranks fourth in Average Running Position at 12.037.

No. 5 -- Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet). Team: Richard Childress Racing. Points: 1,313. Following his victory in the NASCAR Busch Series race the previous night, Harvick dominated the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup event at Richmond until a late-race decision to stay on the track while the other leaders pitted dropped him to a third-place finish. Harvick did improve two positions in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup standings; he has climbed from 23rd to fifth in the last six races. Harvick, who signed with Childress Racing through 2009, has scored five top-10 finishes this season. He has four top-10 finishes in nine races at Darlington, where his best effort was second in 2003. Harvick, who has a 17.44 average finish at Darlington, placed 14th in this race one year ago. Season-to-date Loop Data highlight: Harvick has kept his No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet at the front of the pack this season leading 222.26 miles ranking him sixth on the Mile Leaders chart.

No. 6 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet). Team: Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Points: 1,305. Earnhardt powered to the front for the victory at Richmond, his first of 2006. The triumph, Earnhardt's first since Chicagoland last July, bumped him two spots up in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup standings. He has four top-10 finishes in 11 starts at Darlington; his best finish there was fourth in 2002. Earnhardt, who has a 16.55 average finish at the 1.366-mile track, has one DNF there, a 40th-place effort in March 2000. Season-to-date Loop Data highlight: Earnhardt Jr. ranks fifth in Quality Passes with 736.

No. 7 -- Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge). Team: Evernham Motorsports. Points: 1,274. An early engine problem at Richmond sent Kahne into the garage and back out on the track five laps down; his 34th-place finish caused him to drop three spots in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup standings. He has six top-10 finishes in 2006, but has also finished 34th or worse three times in the last five races. Kahne has competed in just three races at Darlington, finishing in the top five in the last two for a series-best 7.0 average finish. He has led in two of his three races there. Season-to-date Loop Data highlight: Kahne ranks sixth in the Driver Rating category with a rating of 93.6.

No. 8 -- Kyle Busch (No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 1,237. A fifth-place finish at Richmond sparked the younger Busch brother's move up one rung on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup points ladder. The finish was his fifth in the top 10 in 10 races this year. A year ago, Kyle Busch ranked 27th in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup standings. He has run one race at Darlington, finishing 23rd there in 2005. Season-to-date Loop Data highlight: Kyle Busch ranks ninth in Average Running Position at 14.605.

No. 9 -- Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 1,216. Gordon, whose car shut down in the late going, finished 40th at Richmond to drop three positions in the standings. At this point last season, he was second in the standings, 127 points behind teammate Johnson. Gordon has been fierce at Darlington; his legacy to date includes six victories and 16 top-10 finishes in 25 starts. His most recent Darlington triumph came in 2002. Gordon, who finished second in this race last year, has a 12.64 average finish there. He has led 1,553 laps at Darlington, first among active drivers. On the flip side, he finished 33rd, 32nd and 41st before logging top-five finishes in his last two races there. Season-to-date Loop Data highlight: Gordon ranks eighth in the Driver Rating category at 91.9.

No. 10 -- Casey Mears (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge). Team: Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates Racing. Points: 1,168. Mears finished 17th at Richmond, good enough to allow him to break into the top 10 in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup standings. He has seven top-20 finishes this season. Mears has competed in five races at Darlington, but has yet to crack the top 10; his best showing there was 15th in 2004. Mears, who finished 39th in this race last year, has been running at the end of all five of his races at Darlington, for a 29.8 average finish. Season-to-date Loop Data highlight: Mears is the fourth ranked Closer improving his position 29 times.

Fast Facts

Top 10 following Richmond (Race 10 of 36):
1. Jimmie Johnson 1,521 pts
2. Tony Stewart 1,466 (-55)
3. Matt Kenseth 1,422 (-99)
4. Mark Martin 1,345 (-176)
5. Kevin Harvick 1,313 (-208)
6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 1,305 (-216)
7. Kasey Kahne 1,274 (-247)
8. Kyle Busch 1,237 (-284)
9. Jeff Gordon 1,216 (-305)
10. Casey Mears 1,168 (-353)

Weeks at No. 1: Johnson (2).

New arrivals this week in the Top 10: Casey Mears

Dropped out of the Top 10: Dale Jarrett

Closing in on the Top 10:
11. Dale Jarrett 1,166 pts.
12. Jeff Burton 1,157
13. Carl Edwards 1,115
14. Elliott Sadler 1,105
15. Clint Bowyer (r) 1,087

(r) Denotes Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate.

-nascar-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Casey Mears , Jimmie Johnson , Kasey Kahne , Carl Edwards , Chip Ganassi , Clint Bowyer , Elliott Sadler , Felix Sabates , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin
Teams Hendrick Motorsports , Joe Gibbs Racing