Richmond: New of note

* Dale Earnhardt Jr. stays in front, in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 * Jeff Gordon looking for third-consecutive victory * Chevrolet takes lead in manufacturers' standings * FX reality series "NASCAR Drivers: 360" set for debut NEWS & ...

* Dale Earnhardt Jr. stays in front, in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10
* Jeff Gordon looking for third-consecutive victory
* Chevrolet takes lead in manufacturers' standings
* FX reality series "NASCAR Drivers: 360" set for debut

NEWS & NOTES

Charting the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10: Dale Earnhardt Jr. still front-runner ... Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) finished 19th two weeks ago at California Speedway, retaining the lead in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10. ... Ryan Newman (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge), who finished third, had the biggest jump, moving two positions, from ninth to seventh. ...

Elliott Sadler, who finished 22nd, took the biggest tumble, falling two positions, from eighth to 10th. The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 takes on added importance this season. After 26 races of the 36-race season, the top-10 drivers in points -- plus anyone within 400 points of the points leader -- qualify for the "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup" that will determine the series champion.

On the NASCAR bubble ... The new format for determining the series champion has created a "NASCAR bubble" between the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 and those on the outside looking in. Aside from the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10, those drivers within 400 points of the leader also will be involved in the "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup." This week, that list extends down to Dale Jarrett (No. 88 UPS Ford), who sits 18th and 387 points behind Earnhardt Jr. The 400-point range undoubtedly will tighten as the season progresses; currently, drivers ranking 11th-13th are all within 115 points of the 10th-place Sadler. Eleventh-place Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge) is 41 points behind; 12th-place Jamie McMurray (No. 29 Havoline Dodge) is 50 behind, and 13th-place Mark Martin (No. 6 Viagra Ford) is 115 behind.

Chevrolet takes lead in manufacturers' points ... Thanks to Jeff Gordon's California win, Chevrolet broke a tie with Ford atop the standings. Chevrolet now leads the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Manufacturers' Championship with 67 points and five victories. Ford is second with 62 points and four wins, and Dodge is third with 61 points and one victory.

Stewart, aka "Richmond ace" ... When drivers cite their favorite tracks, the reasons usually range from driving styles to sentiment to success rates. At Richmond, all three reasons apply to Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet), who likes the track, has won multiple races there, and doesn't mind the sentiment of having registered his first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup victory under Richmond's lights. He did it as a rookie, winning the 1999 Exide NASCAR Select Batteries 400 in career start No. 25. Stewart also claimed the spring Richmond events in 2001 and 2002, and he's the only repeat winner at Richmond since 1998. He has three wins and six top-10 finishes in 10 races at Richmond.

Third time the charm for Gordon? ... No NASCAR NEXTEL Cup driver is hotter right now than four-time series champion Jeff Gordon. With the traditional Mother's Day off-week behind him, Gordon approaches Richmond on the strength of consecutive victories at Talladega and California, respectively. He leads all drivers with eight top-10 finishes in the season's first 10 races. And if past Richmond performances are any barometer, there's no reason to expect him to slow down. Through 22 races there, Gordon has the best average starting position (6.50) of any driver with more than 10 races at Richmond. He also leads with four Bud poles at the same track, and has two victories (spring 1996 event and fall 1999 event).

Tune in to this ... FX's new reality series, NASCAR Drivers: 360, debuts Friday night, May 14, immediately following the NASCAR Busch Series Funai 250 at approximately 10:30 p.m. ET and 7:30 p.m. PT. The show features NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series drivers Ward Burton (No. 0 NetZero HiSpeed Chevrolet), Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet), Jeremy Mayfield (No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge), Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears (No. 41 Target Dodge), Brian Vickers (No. 25 GMAC Financial Services Chevrolet), Rusty Wallace, Scott Wimmer (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge) and NASCAR Busch Series driver Kenny Wallace (No. 23 Stacker 2/YJ Stinger Chevrolet). It's a weekly one-hour look at 10 drivers, their families and teams, with the primary focus on life away from the track.

Sadler gears up for autism benefit ... Like most NASCAR NEXTEL Cup drivers, Elliott Sadler is a busy guy, but one of his duties these days is for a good cause. Sadler's "Race for Hope" takes place from 5-9 p.m. on May 25 at the Concord Mills NASCAR SpeedPark in Concord, N.C. It features 11 of Sadler's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup peers, with proceeds going to the Autism Society of America and the Petty family's Victory Junction Gang Camp. A warm-up event will be held Thursday, May 20 from 9-10:30 a.m., at the same location. Sadler and Jamie McMurray, one of the participants in the "Race for Hope," will have breakfast with the media, be available for one-on-one interviews, and take on all comers on the go-kart track.

ON THE RIGHT TRACK

* Richmond has hosted 31 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup events since converting from a half-mile to the current .75-mile distance in the fall of 1988. Rusty Wallace leads all active drivers with six Richmond victories, all at the .75-mile configuration. His average finish of 7.612 in 31 races at Richmond also leads all drivers. • * Bobby Labonte (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet) likes Richmond almost as much as his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Tony Stewart. Labonte has eight top-10 finishes in his past 14 races at Richmond, including two runner-up finishes. He finished second behind Stewart in the 1999 fall event, and second to Joe Nemechek in May 2003.

QUOTEBOOK • "Other than the Daytona 500, I'd probably rather win here than any other race. Richmond is so special. I remember coming and sitting in the stands at four, five, six, seven, eight-years-old -- all the way up until I started racing," -- Elliott Sadler, whose hometown of Emporia, Va., lies approximately 50 miles south of Richmond. • "It's really smooth, glass-smooth actually. I'm not sure I could find a bump if someone paid me to find a bump out there." -- Tony Stewart, on Richmond's new pavement.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

Richmond International Raceway began its racing life in October 1946 as a half-mile dirt track. It was known as Strawberry Hill Speedway back in those days. The track held its first NASCAR premier series event in 1953 with Lee Petty winning the race in his '53 Dodge. Lee's son, Richard, still holds the track record for most starts (63) and victories (13).

The last race run on Richmond's dirt surface was the Richmond 250 in March 1968. Bobby Isaac was the polesitter with eventual race winner David Pearson starting 16th in the 20-car field. Pearson took the lead from Charlie Glotzbach on Lap 156 of the 250 lap event, and led the rest of the way, winning $2,300.

"I didn't use but half the horsepower I had," said Pearson in victory lane. "If you tried to goose it all the way around, you'd burn up your tires in 20 laps".

Paving began later that year, and Richard Petty's victory in the Capital City 300 in September 1968 ushered in Richmond's era of paved events.

Fast Facts

What: Chevy American Revolution 400 (Race No. 11 of the 36-race NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season.)
Where: Richmond International Raceway; Richmond, Va.
When: Saturday, May 15, 7 p.m. (ET).

TV: FX, 7 p.m. (ET).
Radio: MRN/XM Satellite.

Posted awards: $4,897,954.

Race length: 400 laps/300 miles.
Track layout: .75-mile oval.

2003 winner: Joe Nemechek.
2003 polesitter: Terry Labonte.

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10: 1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 1,453. 2. Jimmie Johnson 1,428. 3. Jeff Gordon 1,426. 4. Matt Kenseth 1,357. 5. Kurt Busch 1,316. 6. Kevin Harvick 1,316. 7. Ryan Newman 1,299. 8. Tony Stewart 1,284. 9. Bobby Labonte 1,265. 10. Elliott Sadler 1,250.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Ward Burton , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Terry Labonte , Jeremy Mayfield , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Kevin Harvick , Joe Nemechek , Kenny Wallace , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Casey Mears , Jamie McMurray , Richard Petty , Kasey Kahne , Scott Wimmer , Brian Vickers , Elliott Sadler , Mark Martin , David Pearson , Lee Petty
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing