The following is a glance at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 in the championship entering Sunday's Pocono 500 at Pocono Raceway (1 p.m. ET, FOX), Race 14 of 36 on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule. The first 26 races of the season will ...
The following is a glance at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 in the championship entering Sunday's Pocono 500 at Pocono Raceway (1 p.m. ET, FOX), Race 14 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: 1963. Previous ranking: 1. Earnhardt Jr. finished third at Sunday's MBNA "A Salute to Heroes" at Dover International Speedway, but more important, he also rebuilt his lead. He arrived at Dover with a slim five-point margin over Jimmie Johnson, and now heads for Pocono with a 98-point cushion -- the largest lead of 2004. Sunday's top-10 finish also meant Earnhardt Jr. was able to maintain the No. 1 ranking for the sixth consecutive race and series-leading eighth week overall. He is one of four drivers ranked among the Top 10 all season and for 46 consecutive race weeks overall dating to last season. At Pocono, Earnhardt Jr. has three top-five finishes in eight career starts. His best finish was second in July 2001. Last season, Earnhardt Jr. finished fourth in the June event and third in the July event at Pocono.
No. 2 -- Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 1865 (-98). Previous ranking: 2. Johnson finished 32nd at Dover and lost some ground to No. 1 Dale Earnhardt Jr. However, he remains at No. 2 for the fifth race week in a row, still trailing Earnhardt Jr. by less than 100 points. Sunday's accident-induced finish was Johnson's second DNF of the season. At Pocono, Johnson has produced top-15 finishes in each of his four races there, and has led two of those events. He finished 12th in last season's June race and 15th in the July event.
No. 3 -- Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 1784 (-179). Previous ranking: 3. Kenseth, the defending series champion, finished 22nd at Dover, maintaining position No. 3 in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10. While the result ended a string of three consecutive top-five finishes, Kenseth now has been ranked among the top five for 12 of the 13 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 48 consecutive races among the Top 10 makes him the active leader in that category. He also has nine top-10 finishes in 13 races this season. Kenseth has recorded four top-10 finishes in eight career starts at Pocono. He's led four of those races and finished a career-best third at Pocono last June. He finished 13th in the July event, extending a streak of three consecutive top-15 finishes at Pocono. One interesting note -- after 13 races a year ago, Kenseth led Earnhardt Jr. by 171 points.
No. 4 -- Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet). Team Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 1767 (-196). Previous ranking: 5. Stewart finished second at Dover to move up one spot to the No. 4 position. The finish was his third consecutive top 10 and seventh this season. He is one of four drivers to be ranked in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 all season long, which includes nine weeks among the top five. He trails No. 3 Matt Kenseth by 17 points. Stewart is the defending race winner at Pocono, winning the June event and finishing 37th in last year's July event -- his career high and low, respectively, at Pocono. Otherwise, he and the Pennsylvania track get on well. Stewart has one win and eight top-10 finishes in 10 Pocono starts.
No. 5 -- Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 1709 (-254). Previous ranking: 4. For the second consecutive week, Gordon endured a finish of 30th or worse, finishing 36th at Dover. He also dropped one spot in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 for the second consecutive week, falling from No. 4 to No. 5. Last week's 30th at Charlotte had dropped Gordon from No. 3 to No. 4. Sunday's Dover result was just his third finish of the season outside the top 15, his others being the 30th at Charlotte and a season-worst 41st at Darlington due to an accident. Still, Gordon's just 58 points shy of No. 4 Tony Stewart. Gordon also is a three-time winner at Pocono, most recently in July 1998. He has 15 top-10 finishes in 22 Pocono events, yet has finished 12th or worse in his last three Pocono races. Gordon finished 13th in last year's June event and 36th last July.
No. 6 -- Kurt Busch (No. 97 IRWIN Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 1648 (-315). Previous ranking: 8. Busch was the biggest mover in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 this week moving up two positions to No. 6 after a 12th-place finish at Dover. Just three weeks ago after Richmond, Busch was ninth in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 and was in jeopardy of ending what is now a 12-week streak in the Top 10. He is currently 61 points behind No. 5 Jeff Gordon. Busch heads to Pocono without a top-10 finish in his last six starts, but should change that considering he has two runner up finishes in his last three races at Pocono. However, it has been relatively feast or famine for Busch at Pocono. In six starts, he has two top fives against three finishes of 37th or worse and finished 36th in the June race last year.
No. 7 -- Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&M's Ford). Team: Robert Yates Racing. Points: 1646 (-261). Previous ranking: 10. Sadler, one of four drivers to be among the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 all season long, finished 18th at Dover. He remains at No. 7 in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 and is now just two points behind No. 6 Kurt Busch. In 10 starts at Pocono, Sadler has just one top-10 finish but has steadily improved his performance on the 2.5-mile track. Prior to 2003, Sadler led just two laps and Pocono with a career best 15th-place finish. However, Sadler led 35 laps in last year's June race finishing ninth and came back in July to finish 14th. He also started ninth and third last year breaking his previous best qualifying effort of 25th in 2002.
No. 8 -- Bobby Labonte (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet). Team: Joe Gibbs Racing. Points 1642 (-321). Previous ranking: 6. Historically, Bobby Labonte and Dover International Speedway have been a solid match producing 11 top-five finishes including a streak of seven in the late . However, Labonte has enjoyed just one top-10 finish -- a third last June -- in his last seven starts at "The Monster Mile." After suffering through mechanical problems resulting in a 25th-place finish on Sunday, Labonte dropped two positions in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 and is now at No. 8. He is six points behind No. 6 Kurt Busch and four points away from No. 7 Elliott Sadler. Labonte should take some solace in heading to Pocono where he has scored three wins and six top-10 finishes in 22 starts. However, Labonte has not had a top-10 finish there in his last four races.
No. 9 -- Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet). Team: Richard Childress Racing. Points: 1632 (-331) Previous ranking: 10. Harvick finished 10th at Dover and was fortunate enough to be one of just three drivers among the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 to finish in the top 10 at Dover. Harvick improved one position to No. 9 in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 where he has remained for the last eight weeks. Harvick is just 16 points behind Kurt Busch in a heated battle for the No. 6 position. In six starts at Pocono, Harvick has one top-10 finish (sixth). Last year he finished 25th in June and 12th in July.
No. 10 -- Ryan Newman (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge). Team: Penske Racing. Points: 1596 (-367). Previous ranking: 9. Newman's bid to win three in a row at Dover faded after a pit road mishap on Lap 326 and then vanished after being caught up in a multi-car accident on Lap 347. Newman's 24th-place finish dropped him one spot to No. 10 in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10. It was Newman's first finish outside the top 10 at Dover in five starts. Newman has been just about equally impressive in his four Pocono starts. He won the July race from the pole last season and has two fifth place finishes prior to that. In his first start in June 2002 he led 19 laps but finished 32nd.
Top 10 following Dover (Race 13 of 36):
1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 1963 points
2. Jimmie Johnson 1865 (-98)
3. Matt Kenseth 1784 (-179)
4. Tony Stewart 1767 (-196)
5. Jeff Gordon 1709 (-254)
6. Kurt Busch 1648 (-315)
7. Elliott Sadler 1646 (-317)
8. Bobby Labonte 1642 (-321)
9. Kevin Harvick 1632 (-331)
10. Ryan Newman 1596 (-367)
Weeks at No. 1: Earnhardt Jr., 8; Kenseth, 4; Busch, 1.
Most weeks in the Top 10: 13 (tie), Kenseth, Earnhardt Jr., Stewart, Sadler.
New arrivals: None.
Biggest gain: No. 6 Busch, two positions.
Dropped out: None.
Additional "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup" qualifiers (within 400 points of the leader) at this stage: None.