NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 At A Glance A weekly look at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Top 10 drivers The following is a glance at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 in the championship entering Sunday's MBNA 400 "A Salute To Heroes" at ...
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 At A Glance
A weekly look at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Top 10 drivers
The following is a glance at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 in the championship entering Sunday's MBNA 400 "A Salute To Heroes" at Dover International Speedway (1 p.m. ET, FX), Race 13 of 36 on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule. The first 26 races of the season will determine which drivers will be part of the "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup" in the final 10 races. The drivers who are in the NASCAR Top 10 or within 400 points of the leader after those 26 races will vie for the series title in the "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup."
No. 1 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet). Team: Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Points: 1798. Previous ranking: 1. Earnhardt Jr. finished sixth at Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, but he watched his lead shrink considerably despite the top-10 effort. His 40-point advantage was sliced to five by Sunday's victor Jimmie Johnson, but Earnhardt Jr. was able to maintain the No. 1 ranking for the fifth consecutive race and series-leading seventh week overall. He is one of four drivers ranked among the Top 10 all season and for 45 consecutive race weeks overall dating to last season. Earnhardt Jr. has three top-10 finishes in eight career starts at Dover, including a victory in Sept. of 2001, but has been shut out of the top 10 since that win. His best finish during that four-race span was 11th in this race last season. Earnhardt Jr. has led laps at Dover in six of his starts, including his last three visits. He also has started among the top three in three of his last five appearances, including a best of second in September of last season.
No. 2 -- Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 1793 (-5). Previous ranking: 2. Johnson posted a dominant victory in Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 and closed to five points of No. 1 Dale Earnhardt Jr. He remains at No. 2 for the fourth race week in a row but shaved 35 points off the deficit to Earnhardt Jr. The win was his second of the season -- the other came at Darlington -- and fifth consecutive top-five performance. His eight top-five finishes on the season leads the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series. Johnson made quite an impact at Dover during his 2002 rookie campaign, winning both events as he led a combined 358 laps. In four career starts at Dover, he has three top-10 finishes, the most recent being an eighth in September of last season. His only miss came in this event last season, when he finished 38th due to his first DNF at the 1-mile oval. He also has been strong on the qualifying side, with top-10 starts in three of his four career appearances, including a best of fourth in September of last season.
No. 3 -- Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 1687 (-111). Previous ranking: 4. Kenseth, the defending series champion, finished third at Charlotte to move up one position to No. 3 in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10. The performance was his third top-five finish in a row and sixth on the season. Kenseth has now been ranked among the top five for 11 of the 12 race weeks, including four at No. 1, and is one of four drivers to be ranked all season long. He has been among the top 10 since Rockingham in February of last season and his current streak of 47 consecutive races among the Top 10 makes him the active leader in that category. Kenseth has recorded six top-10 finishes in 10 career starts at Dover, including his last three appearances. He finished fourth in Sept. of 2002 and followed with a seventh in this race and a ninth in the fall last season. He led one lap in that fall race, his first laps led at the 1-mile oval. His best finish is a runner-up effort in June of 2000. He also has started fourth or better in three of his last four starts at Dover, including a Bud Pole in the June event of 2002. The pole was the first of his career. Kenseth also has another historical footnote at Dover, having made his first career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series start at the 1-mile oval on Sept. 20, 1998.
No. 4 -- Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 1654 (-144). Previous ranking: 3. Gordon finished 30th at Charlotte to snap a run of six consecutive top-10 finishes and the effort cost him a position in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 as he slipped to No. 4. Gordon, who spent the past three weeks at a season-high No. 3, recorded just his second finish of the season outside the top 15. His other was a season-worst 41st at Darlington due to an accident. Despite the slip, he is just 33 points shy of No. 3 Matt Kenseth. Gordon is a four-time winner at Dover -- including wins in this event in 1996 and 2001 -- and has posted top-10 finishes in 15 of his 22 career starts. That total has been enhanced by his recent tear in which he has recorded top-10 efforts in six of his last seven starts at Dover, including runner-up in this race last season. He has led laps in 15 of those starts, including 100 or more in seven appearances. He also has been a solid qualifier at Dover, with a pair of Bud Poles (June of 1995 and '96) and 15 top-10 starts.
No. 5 -- Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet). Team Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 1587 (-211). Previous ranking: 5. Stewart finished ninth at Charlotte to maintain his No. 5 ranking for the second consecutive race week. The finish was his second top 10 in a row and sixth on the season. He is one of four drivers to be ranked in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 all season long, which includes eight weeks among the top five. He is 67 points behind No. 4 Jeff Gordon. Stewart is a model of consistency at Dover with top-10 finishes in nine of his 10 career starts, highlighted by a sweep in 2000. Of those nine top-10 efforts, eight have been among the top five. He also has led laps in nine of those starts, including 67 in this race last season when he finished fourth. Stewart's only top-10 miss at Dover came in June of 2002 when he did not lead any laps and finished 11th.
No. 6 -- Bobby Labonte (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet). Team: Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 1554 (-244). Previous ranking: 7. Labonte's 13th-place finish at Charlotte snapped a four-race streak of top-10 finishes, but the effort was enough to improve him one position to No. 7 in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10. The No. 6 ranking is a season high as Labonte has been among the Top 10 for the last four race weeks in a row. He also finds himself within 33 points of No. 5 Tony Stewart. Labonte has been strong at Dover with 11 top-five performances in 23 career starts, including a victory from the pole in June of 1999. He finished third in this event last season, which was his first top five at Dover since the fall of 2000, and led 34 laps. The laps led were his most at Dover since he led 44 en route to his victory in 1999. Labonte also made his first career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series start in this event at Dover, the debut coming June 2, 1991.
No. 7 -- Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&M's Ford). Team: Robert Yates Racing. Points: 1537 (-261). Previous ranking: 10. Sadler, one of four drivers to be among the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 all season long, finished fifth at Charlotte to improve three positions to No. 7 in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10. The three-position gain was the largest made among the Top 10 and this marks his highest ranking since being No. 5 following Martinsville in mid-April. He also is just 17 points behind No. 6 Bobby Labonte. The effort at Charlotte was his third top-five finish of the season and marked his first performance inside the top 10 since his victory at Texas in early April. Sadler has managed one top-10 finish in 10 career starts at Dover. He finished 10th in this event in 2002, which also marked his best start (eighth) in his career at the 1-mile oval. Last season he finished 33rd in this race and 19th in the fall event.
No. 8 -- Kurt Busch (No. 97 IRWIN Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 1521 (-277). Previous ranking: 9. Busch finished 11th at Charlotte to end a three-race skid of finishes outside of the top 20 and improve one position to No. 8 in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10. It marked his best finish since finishing 11th at Martinsville in mid-April. He is 16 points behind No. 7 Elliott Sadler and 33 behind No. 6 Bobby Labonte. Busch has started seventh or better in his last four appearances at Dover, but it has resulted in just one top-10 finish (seventh, Sept. of 2002) during that stretch. That effort is his only top-10 finish at Dover in seven career starts. Last season he finished 15th in this race and 38th in the fall. Busch joins Matt Kenseth and Bobby Labonte among the Top 10 drivers who have made their first career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series start at Dover (Sept. 24, 2000).
No. 9 -- Ryan Newman (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge). Team: Penske Racing South. Points: 1500 (-298). Previous ranking: 6. Newman finished 35th at Charlotte due to engine problems and fell three positions to No. 9 in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10. The loss of three positions was the biggest drop of the week among the Top 10 and the finish at Charlotte was just his third outside the top 10 in the last nine races. He is 21 points behind No. 8 Kurt Busch and 37 behind No. 7 Elliott Sadler. Newman has a brief history at Dover, but it is extremely impressive. In four career starts, he has two wins -- a sweep last season -- and has finished among the top 10 in every one of those starts. He also has started among the top five in his last three appearances, including a Bud Pole in this event last season. In his two victories last season, he led a combined 268 laps, including 162 in this race.
No. 10 -- Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet). Team: Richard Childress Racing. Points: 1498 (-300). Previous ranking: 8. Harvick finished 23rd at Charlotte and slid two positions to No. 10. Despite the fall, it marks Harvick's seventh consecutive race week in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 and 10th overall. The finish was his second in a row outside of the top 20 -- he was 25th at Richmond -- but he is just two points behind No. 9 Ryan Newman and 23 behind No. 8 Kurt Busch. Harvick has been hit or miss at Dover with three top-10 finishes and three finishes of 27th or worse in six career starts. He finished among the top 10 in both starts in 2001 -- eighth in the spring and sixth in the fall -- and landed his other in his most recent appearance in September of last season when he finished fourth. He also led 133 laps in that event, marking his first laps led at the 1-mile oval.
Top 10 following Charlotte (Race 12 of 36):
1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 1798 points
2. Jimmie Johnson 1793 (-5)
3. Matt Kenseth 1687 (-111)
4. Jeff Gordon 1654 (-144)
5. Tony Stewart 1587 (-211)
6. Bobby Labonte 1554 (-244)
7. Elliott Sadler 1537 (-261)
8. Kurt Busch 1521 (-277)
9. Ryan Newman 1500 (-298)
10. Kevin Harvick 1498 (-300)
Weeks at No. 1: Earnhardt Jr., 7; Kenseth, 4; Busch, 1.
Most weeks in the Top 10: 12 (tie), Kenseth, Earnhardt Jr., Stewart, Sadler.
New arrivals: None.
Biggest gain: No. 7 Sadler, three positions.
Dropped out: None.
Additional "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup" qualifiers (within 400 points of the leader) at this stage: No. 11 Kasey Kahne, 1420 (-378); No. 12 Jamie McMurray, 1414 (-384).