Top 10 at a Glance - A weekly look at NASCAR Winston Cup's Top 10 drivers DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 14, 2003) -- The following is a glance at the NASCAR Top 10 in the championship heading into Sunday's New England 300 at New Hampshire...
Top 10 at a Glance - A weekly look at NASCAR Winston Cup's Top 10 drivers
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 14, 2003) -- The following is a glance at the NASCAR Top 10 in the championship heading into Sunday's New England 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway, Race 19 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: 2678. Previous ranking: 1. Kenseth finished 12th in Sunday's Tropicana 400 at Chicagoland Speedway and remains at No. 1 for the 15th consecutive race week and among the NASCAR Top 10 for the 17th race week in a row. Although it was just his second finish outside the top 10 in the last nine races, he did not give up too much ground in the battle for the NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship. He entered Chicago with a 180-point lead over then-No. 2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. and departed with a 165-point lead over the new No. 2, Jeff Gordon. At the midpoint of the 2002 season (through 18 races), Kenseth ranked 10th in the championship. Kenseth has posted top-10 finishes in two of his last three starts at New Hampshire International Speedway. He finished fourth in the fall of 2001 and 10th in last season's fall race. Although he was 33rd in last year's New England 300, he qualified a personal-best of sixth -- his first starting position among the top 10 at NHIS -- and led 77 laps, the first laps he has led at the 1.058-mile oval. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:
No. 2 -- Jeff Gordon
(No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet), Hendrick Motorsports.
Points: 2513. Previous ranking: 3. Gordon finished fourth at Chicago for his third top-five performance in the last four races (3rd at Michigan, 2nd at Sonoma), moving him from No. 3 to No. 2 in the NASCAR Top 10 rankings. Gordon was 203 points behind No. 1 Kenseth coming into Chicago, but was able to slice the deficit to 165. Gordon, who was as high as No. 2 for one week following Sonoma, has been situated among the top five in the championship for 11 consecutive weeks and 13 straight among the NASCAR Top 10. At the season midpoint in 2002, Gordon was fourth in the title chase. Gordon, a three-time winner at New Hampshire, has 10 top-10 finishes in 16 career starts. The total was boosted by an impressive run of eight consecutive top-10 efforts, which included seven among the top five including two wins, from the fall of 1997 to the July event of 2001. He is the all-time leader in laps led at New Hampshire with 912, which is 317 more than the second-highest total (595) held by Jeff Burton. However, he has not been able to crack the top 10 in his last three starts at NHIS, which includes a 29th-place finish in last season's New England 300. On the qualifying side, he has won three Bud Poles, the most among active drivers. He won from the pole in 1998, making him one of only two drivers to do so at New Hampshire. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:
No. 3 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
(No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet), Dale Earnhardt Inc.
Points: 2420. Previous ranking: 2. Earnhardt Jr. finished 38th at Chicago due to an accident, causing him to slip from No. 2 to No. 3 in the NASCAR Top 10. It marked the first time in the last six races that he finished outside the top 11 and he now finds himself trailing No. 2 Gordon by 93 points and No. 1 Kenseth by 258. It was a 78-point swing with No. 1 Kenseth as Earnhardt Jr. came into Chicago trailing the points leader by 180. Despite the drop to No. 3, it marks his 14th consecutive race week in the top five in the championship and 12th among the top three. Last season at the midpoint mark, he was ranked 14th in the championship. Earnhardt has posted just one top-10 finish in seven career starts at New Hampshire, which was a ninth-place effort in the New England 300 in 2001, and just two among the top 20. His other top-20 finish was 11th in last year's fall race. He was 23rd in last season's New England 300. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: --
No. 4 -- Bobby Labonte
(No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet), Joe Gibbs Racing.
Points: 2351. Previous ranking: 4. Labonte finished 36th due to an accident at Chicago, marking only the second time in the last 10 races that he finished outside the top 10. The only other miss during the recent run was 17th at Pocono. Labonte remains at No. 4 for the sixth consecutive race week and is 69 points behind No. 3 Earnhardt Jr. He trails No. 1 Kenseth by 327. At the midpoint of last season, he was ranked 21st in the NASCAR Winston Cup championship. Labonte has been strong at New Hampshire with seven top-10 finishes, including four among the top five, in his last nine starts at the 1.058-mile oval. One of the misses during that stretch, however, came in last season's New England 300 when he finished 13th. His best finish at New Hampshire came in the fall of 2000 when he finished second. He also is one of four drivers who has started in all 16 races at New Hampshire and not recorded a DNF (Dale Jarrett, Sterling Marlin and Mark Martin are the others). He also has been solid on the qualifying side, starting among the top 10 in eight of his last 10 appearances, including the last three in a row. The run includes a Bud Pole in the fall of 2000. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:
No. 5 -- Michael Waltrip
(No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet), Dale Earnhardt, Inc.
Points: 2294. Previous ranking: 5. Waltrip finished fifth at Chicago for his fourth consecutive top-15 finish and second fifth-place effort in the last four races. His other came at Michigan. He remains at No. 5 for the third consecutive race week and has been ranked among the NASCAR Top 10 for the entire season. At the midpoint of 2002, Waltrip was ranked 15th in the championship. Waltrip has just two top-10 finishes in 16 career starts at New Hampshire, but his personal-best effort at the venue came in his most recent start. He was eighth in last season's fall race, which snapped an 11-race stretch of finishes of 19th or worse. He finished 20th in last season's New England 300. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: --
No. 6 -- Jimmie Johnson
(No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet), Hendrick Motorsports.
Points: 2249. Previous ranking: 6. Johnson snapped out of a recent drought with a third-place finish at Chicago. The performance ended a run of five consecutive races without a top-10 finish and marked his second in the last nine. His other top-10 during the stretch, which dates to California, was a victory at Charlotte. He remains at No. 6 for the second consecutive race week and he and Waltrip are the only drivers who have been ranked in the NASCAR Top 10 all season long. Dating to last season, he has been in the top-10 in the championship for 51 consecutive weeks, the longest current streak in the series. He is 45 points behind No. 5 Waltrip and 429 behind No. 1 Kenseth. At the midpoint of 2002, he was ranked third in the championship. Johnson has finished among the top 15 in his two appearances at New Hampshire, both of which came during his 2002 rookie season. He finished 15th in the New England 300 and followed with a ninth-place finish in the fall. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:
No. 7 -- Kevin Harvick
(No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet), Richard Childress Racing.
Points: 2166. Previous ranking: 8. Harvick, the two-time defending champion of the Tropicana 400, finished 17th at Chicago, but it was enough to move him up one position to No. 7 in the NASCAR Top 10. The No. 7 ranking is the highest he has been in the NASCAR Top 10 since he was ranked No. 6 following Martinsville in April. His best for the season is No. 4, following the season-opening Daytona 500. He trails No. 6 Johnson by 83 points and No. 1 Kenseth by 512. At the midpoint of last season, he ranked 28th in the championship. Harvick has two top-10 finishes in four appearances at New Hampshire, and both have come in the New England 300. He finished eighth in 2001 and ninth last season after starting 24th in both events. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:
No. 8 -- Tony Stewart
(No. 20 The Home Depot Chevrolet), Joe Gibbs Racing.
Points: 2129. Previous ranking: 11. Stewart, the defending NASCAR Winston Cup champion, finished runner-up to Ryan Newman at Chicago and returned to the NASCAR Top 10 for the first time since mid-April. He had been ranked in the NASCAR Top 10 for the first nine race weeks of the season, including a high of No. 2, but fell out following a 41st-place finish at California. He dropped as low as No. 20 following Charlotte, but returned on the strength of four top-10 finishes, including a win at Pocono, in the last six races. He improved three positions, the largest move of any driver in the NASCAR Top 10 this week. At the midpoint last season during his title run, he was ranked fifth. Stewart, 37 points behind No. 7 Harvick, could make another move this week at New Hampshire. He has five top-five finishes in eight career starts, including a win in this event in 2000. One of his two finishes outside the top 10 at New Hampshire came last season in the New England 300 when he finished 39th. He bounced back in the fall event, however, as he finished third. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:
No. 9 -- Kurt Busch
(No. 97 Rubbermaid Ford), Roush Racing.
Points: 2113. Previous ranking: 7. Busch finished 39th at Chicago due to engine problems for his fourth finish of 28th or worse in the last five races. The finish cost him two positions in the NASCAR Top 10 rankings as he slid from No. 7 to No. 9. He has spent the last 14 race weeks in a row in the NASCAR Top 10, but has lost four positions in the championship in the last three races. However, he still is just 16 points behind No. 8 Stewart and 53 behind No. 7 Harvick. At the midpoint of 2002, he was ranked No. 9 as well. Busch struggled in his first two appearances at New Hampshire -- finishing 21st (spring) and 42nd (fall) -- but rebounded in 2002 with a pair of top-10 finishes. He finished eighth in last season's New England 300 and followed with a runner-up performance in the fall. In the fall race, he also qualified a personal-best of sixth -- his first start inside the top 20 at NHIS -- and led his first laps (7) at the oval. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:
No. 10 -- Sterling Marlin
(No. 40 Coors Light Dodge), Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.
Points: 2098. Previous ranking: 10. Marlin finished 21st at Chicago -- his third straight finish of 18th or worse -- but maintained the No. 10 ranking for the third race week in a row. However, he has five drivers within 75 points of that ranking, including No. 11 Rusty Wallace who is just 12 back. Looking ahead, he is just 15 points behind No. 9 Busch and 31 behind No. 8 Stewart. A year ago at the midpoint of the season, Marlin was leading the NASCAR Winston Cup championship. Marlin was strong at the outset at New Hampshire, with three top-10 finishes in his first three starts, but he has just one more in the 13 starts since. That effort, which came in the fall of 2001, was a personal best of second. He finished 14th in last season's New England 300, just his second finish among the top 15 at the 1.058-mile oval in his previous 12 starts. He is one of four drivers to start all 16 races at New Hampshire without recording a DNF. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: --
NASCAR Top 10 this week:
1. Matt Kenseth 2678 points
2. Jeff Gordon 2513 (-165)
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2420 (-258)
4. Bobby Labonte 2351 (-327)
5. Michael Waltrip 2294 (-384)
6. Jimmie Johnson 2249 (-429)
7. Kevin Harvick 2166 (-512)
8. Tony Stewart 2129 (-549)
9. Kurt Busch 2113 (-565)
10. Sterling Marlin 2098 (-580)
Weeks at No. 1: Kenseth, 15; Waltrip, 2; Busch, 1.
New arrivals in the NASCAR Top 10 this week: No. 8 Stewart.
Most weeks in the NASCAR Top 10: Waltrip, Johnson, 18; Kenseth, Busch, 17.
Largest gain among the NASCAR Top 10: No. 8 Stewart, 3 positions.
Dropped out of the NASCAR Top 10 this week: No. 9 Rusty Wallace, falls to No. 11.