Preseason top ten

Newman Tabbed Preseason No. 1 in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Four former series champions among the preseason Top 10 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 11, 2004) -- Ryan Newman, who led NASCAR's premier series in wins and poles last season en route to ...

Newman Tabbed Preseason No. 1 in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series
Four former series champions among the preseason Top 10

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 11, 2004) -- Ryan Newman, who led NASCAR's premier series in wins and poles last season en route to a sixth-place finish in the championship, has been voted the preseason No. 1 in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series by motorsports media.

Newman, the 26-year-old Indiana native who drives the No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge for Penske Racing South, collected 1,915 points on the strength of 27 first-place votes to outdistance four-time series champion Jeff Gordon. Newman is coming off a dominant 2003 season in which he had a series-leading eight wins and 11 poles, and finished sixth in the series championship for the second consecutive year. Newman, the 2002 Raybestos Rookie of the Year, is looking to give team owner Roger Penske his first championship in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series.

"I thank the media for voting our team as the preseason No. 1 pick to win the championship. Unfortunately, picking us as the favorite will not make any difference to how our season will turn out," Newman said. "I'm looking forward to another opportunity to win this championship. The ALLTEL team has learned a lot and we can now apply what we've learned to the 2004 season. Our objective is to make as few mistakes as possible and never make the same mistake twice."

Newman was followed in the voting by the Hendrick Motorsports tandem of Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) and Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet). Gordon, last season's preseason No. 1, is ranked No. 2 with 29 first-place votes and 1,806 points, 109 behind Newman. He recorded three wins and finished fourth in the championship last season. It marked the second consecutive season he finished fourth and the 10th season in a row he has been among the top 10 in the championship.

Johnson, whose car is co-owned by Gordon with Rick Hendrick, amassed 1,801 points -- just five points shy of Gordon -- behind a poll-high 41 first-place votes to earn the No. 3 ranking. He has finished among the top five in the championship in both of his two full seasons in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, including runner-up last season. Johnson, who had three wins last season, has been ranked among the top 10 in the championship for 69 consecutive weeks heading into the season-opening Daytona 500, a streak that ranks first among active drivers.

"I think it's great that people are expecting good things from us this year," Johnson said. "We were in the NASCAR Top 10 all season [in 2003] and that's something we're looking to continue this year. All the great things that have been written in the media, you can use them in the right way and they can motivate the team, add a little more confidence. I'd certainly rather be a favorite than not."

The Hendrick Motorsports duo is followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet), who is No. 4 with 1,525 points and 22 first-place votes. Earnhardt Jr. had two wins last season and finished a career-best third in the championship race for Dale Earnhardt, Inc.

Rounding out the top five is 2002 series champion Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet), who is No. 5 with 1,291 points and five first-place votes. Stewart, who drives for Joe Gibbs Racing, posted two wins in 2003 and finished seventh in the championship. He has finished among the top 10 in the championship in all five seasons he has competed in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series.

Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet) is ranked No. 6 with 991 points and three first-place votes. He has been among the top 10 in the championship in two of his three seasons in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, including a career-best fifth in the series championship last season. Last season, he had one victory and was one of two full-time drivers who did not register a DNF (Did Not Finish) in the 36-race season.

Harvick is followed by a pair of Roush drivers, reigning series champion Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DeWalt Power Tools Ford) and Kurt Busch (No. 97 Sharpie IRWIN Ford). Kenseth, who had a win and a series-leading 25 top-10 finishes last season, is ranked No. 7 with 934 points and a pair of first-place votes. Kenseth spent a NASCAR modern-era record 33 weeks in a row at No. 1 last season and is looking to become the first driver to win consecutive titles since Gordon in 1997-98.

Busch is one of two drivers in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Preseason Top 10 that did not finish among the top 10 in the championship a year ago. Busch, who finished 11th in the 2003 title race, is No. 8 with 694 points and two first-place votes. He had a four-win season for the second consecutive year.

Bobby Labonte (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet), the 2000 series champion, joins Stewart from the Joe Gibbs Racing stable in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Preseason Top 10 with the No. 9 ranking. He received 573 points and one first-place vote. Labonte had two wins last season and finished eighth in the series championship. It marked the sixth time in the last seven seasons he has finished among the top 10.

Jamie McMurray (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge), the 2003 Raybestos Rookie of the Year, joins Busch as the other driver among the Preseason Top 10 who did not finish in the top 10 in the 2003 series championship. McMurray, who had five top-five performances en route to a 13th--place finish in last year's championship, received 154 points to land the No. 10 ranking. He will be looking to crack the top 10 for the first time in his 42-start career in 2004, with his No. 13 ranking in the final week of the season being his career-best position at any stage.

Twenty-eight drivers received votes from more than 100 motorsports writers who participated in the balloting. Drivers received 20 points for a first-place vote, 17 for second, 15 for third, 13 for fourth, 11 for fifth, nine for sixth, seven for seventh, five for eighth, three for ninth and one for 10th.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Jamie McMurray , Roger Penske
Teams Team Penske , Hendrick Motorsports , Joe Gibbs Racing