Fontana: Top 10 Rundown 2006-02-27

TOP-10 RUNDOWN A weekly look at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Top 10 drivers DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 27, 2006) -- The following is a rundown of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 heading into the season's first off-week. The schedule resumes March...

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

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 27, 2006) -- The following is a rundown of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 heading into the season's first off-week. The schedule resumes March 12 with the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the third of 36 races on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup schedule (4 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: 355. Johnson couldn't beat Matt Kenseth to the checkered flag this past Sunday in the Auto Club 500 at California Speedway, but he finished second, fortifying his position at the top of the standings. Johnson also carries his top-10 momentum into the off-week. He has top-10 finishes in seven of nine races since last October's event at Kansas. Johnson did yield his lead in the Driver Rating category of NASCAR's new Loop Data statistics. Post-California, he is third with a 112.7-point driver rating.

No. 2 -- Casey Mears (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge). Team: Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Points: 316. Like Johnson, Mears sustained his early-season momentum with a stellar performance at California. Mears notched his second straight top-10 finish -- seventh -- and also remains second in the series point standings. He now has top-10 finishes in four of five races since last November's event at Texas. Mears was one of six drivers who gained three spots in the final 10 percent (25 laps) of last Sunday's event. He climbed from 10th to seventh place in the Closers category of NASCAR's new Loop Data statistics.

No. 3 -- Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DeWALT Power Tools Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 308. Rebounding from a frustrating 15th-place at Daytona, Kenseth won Sunday's Auto Club 500 at California. The win vaulted Kenseth 12 spots in the series point standings. He also led the post-California Driver Rating category in Loop Data statistics with a top mark of 123 points. His average running position of 5.398 was second best in that category. Kenseth also led three other categories -- Consecutive Laps With a Pass (Laps 3-13), Fastest Driver Early in Run (174.857 mph) and Fastest on Restarts (174.493 mph).

No. 4 -- Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge). Team: Evernham Motorsports. Points: 295. Kahne's fourth-place finish at California was his first top-10 result since a sixth last September at California -- 14 races ago. He jumped eight spots in the series standings, tying his career-best position of fourth (March 2004). At California, he was the Fastest Driver by Straightaway, according to Loop Data statistics, posting top speeds of 176.549 mph on the frontstretch, and 177.662 on the backstretch.

No. 5 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet). Team: Dale Earnhardt Inc. Points: 287. Earnhardt Jr. finished 11th last week at California, jumping one spot in the series point standings. It's the first time he's been in the top five in the standings since February 2005 -- 36 races ago. He was tied for sixth among drivers making the most Consecutive Passes Without Being Passed at California, according to NASCAR's new Loop Data statistics. Earnhardt Jr. did so for 19 laps (Laps 121-138).

No. 6 -- Mark Martin (No. 6 AAA Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 275. Martin climbed five spots in the series standings following a ninth-place finish at California. He was one of the Fastest Drivers by Turn at California according to Loop Data statistics, turning a top speed of 158.043 mph in Turn 2.

No. 7 -- Ryan Newman (No. 12 Alltel Dodge). Team: Penske Racing South. Points: 273. Newman's 20th-place finish at California dropped him four spots in the series standings to seventh. But his top-10 standing remains a plus; Newman was 12th a year ago. He also finished strong at California, tying for third in the Closers category of Loop Data statistics. He gained four spots in the final 25 laps.

No. 8 -- Clint Bowyer (No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet). Team: Richard Childress Racing. Points: 271. The only Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate in the top 10, Bowyer was the only top-10 driver to maintain his previous spot. His 14th-place finish at California kept him eighth. Bowyer tied for seventh in the Laps Driver Improved Position category, according to Loop Data statistics -- a total of 40.

No. 9 -- Brian Vickers (No. 25 GMAC Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 260. Vickers' 18th-place finish at California dropped him two spots in the series standings. He tied for fourth in Consecutive Laps With a Pass at California (eight, from Laps 77-84), according to Loop Data statistics.

No. 10 -- Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&M's Ford). Team: Robert Yates Racing. Points: 259. Sadler's 23rd-place finish at California dropped him six spots in the series standings. He was one of six drivers who tied for seventh place in the Closers category of Loop Data statistics for California, gaining three spots in the final 25 laps.

Fast Facts

Top 10 following California (Race 2 of 36):
1. Jimmie Johnson 355 pts
2. Casey Mears 316 (-39)
3. Matt Kenseth 308 (-47)
4. Kasey Kahne 295 (-60)
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 287 (-68)
6. Mark Martin 275 (-80)
7. Ryan Newman 273 (-82)
8. Clint Bowyer (r) 271 (-84)
9. Brian Vickers 260 (-95)
10. Elliott Sadler 259 (-96)

Weeks at No. 1: Johnson (2).

New arrivals this week in the Top 10: Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin.

Dropped out of the Top 10: Dale Jarrett, Ken Schrader, Tony Stewart.

Closing in on the Top 10:
11. Dale Jarrett 246 pts.
12. Kyle Busch 233
13. Martin Truex Jr. 233
14. Jeff Burton 227
15. Jeff Gordon 219

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Ken Schrader , Ryan Newman , Casey Mears , Jimmie Johnson , Kasey Kahne , Martin Truex Jr. , Brian Vickers , Chip Ganassi , Clint Bowyer , Robert Yates , Elliott Sadler , Felix Sabates , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin
Teams Team Penske , Hendrick Motorsports , Yates Racing