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 Saturday's Pepsi 400 at Daytona International ...
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 Saturday's Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway (7 p.m. ET, FOX), Race 17 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 -- Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 2375. Previous ranking: 1. Johnson continued his impressive tear of top-five finishes and maintained his status as the hottest driver in the series with a fifth-place finish in Sunday's Dodge/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway. The performance was his third top-five effort in a row and eighth in his last nine races. Overall, he has 11 top-five finishes on the season, which leads the series. Sunday's performance allowed him to stretch a seven-point advantage over No. 2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. to 27 as he holds the No. 1 ranking for the second consecutive week. Johnson has posted three top-10 finishes in five career starts at Daytona International Speedway and has not finished outside the top 20 in any of those starts. His best performance is a third in last season's Daytona 500 and last year's 18th--place finish in the Pepsi 400 is his worst at the 2.5-mile oval. He has qualified among the top 10 in three starts, including a Bud Pole in the 2002 Daytona 500, and has led laps in his last three visits.
No. 2 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet). Team: Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Points: 2348 (-27). Previous ranking: 2. Earnhardt Jr. finished 11th at Sonoma and kept streaking Jimmie Johnson and the No. 1 ranking well within his sights. Earnhardt Jr. entered Sonoma trailing Johnson by seven points and exited just 27 behind. It is Earnhardt Jr.'s second consecutive week at No. 2 following seven weeks in a row at No. 1 before Johnson unseated him following Michigan. Overall, he has held the No. 1 ranking for a series-high nine weeks and has been ranked among the top three for all but one week this season. This also is his 49th consecutive race week among the Top 10 dating to last season, an active streak that ranks second only to No. 3 Matt Kenseth at 51 in a row. Earnhardt Jr. arrives at Daytona, where he is a two-time winner including earlier this season when he captured the Daytona 500. His other triumph came in the 2001 Pepsi 400. Overall, he has made nine career starts and has registered five top-10 finishes, including three in his last four appearances. He finished seventh in last season's Pepsi 400. He also has seven top-10 starts, including in his last five visits, and has led laps in six of his last seven appearances.
No. 3 -- Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 2143 (-232). Previous ranking: 3. Kenseth finished 20th at Sonoma -- his third finish of 20th or worse in the last four races for the ultra-consistent 2003 series champion -- but maintained the No. 3 ranking for the fifth consecutive race week. However, No. 4 Jeff Gordon has closed to 20 points and Kenseth has fallen 205 behind No. 2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Kenseth remains one of four drivers to be ranked all season long and has been ranked among the Top 10 for 51 consecutive race weeks, dating to last season. That streak is the longest active one in the series. Kenseth has three top-10 finishes at Daytona in nine career starts, including in his last two appearances. He finished a best of sixth in last season's Pepsi 400 and followed with a ninth in this season's Daytona 500, his first top 10s at the 2.5-mile since finishing 10th in his first appearance in the 2000 Daytona 500. He has led laps in five of his last six visits, including a high of 10 in this event last season.
No. 4 -- Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 2123 (-252). Previous ranking: 6. Gordon was dominant in Sunday's Dodge/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway, starting on the pole and leading a race-record 92 laps en route to the victory. The win was his third of the season and tied him with No. 1 Jimmie Johnson and No. 2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the series lead. It also pulled him out of a drought in which he had finished 30th or worse in three of the four previous races. Gordon improved two positions to No. 4 -- the largest gain among the Top 10 this week -- and closed to 20 points of No. 3 Matt Kenseth. He has been ranked among the Top 10 for 14 race weeks, including the last 10 in a row. Gordon is a four-time winner at Daytona, winning a pair of Daytona 500 crowns as well as two Pepsi 400 titles (1995, '98). In his 23 career starts, he has 12 top-10 finishes, including eight of those among the top five. However, Gordon has not landed a top-five finish at the 2.5-mile oval since capturing the Daytona 500 in 1999. He finished 14th in last season's Pepsi 400, but bounced back with an eighth earlier this season in the Daytona 500. He has 14 top-10 starts, including a pair of Bud Poles, and has led in 17 of his 23 starts, including in four of his last five appearances.
No. 5 -- Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet). Team Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 2068 (-307). Previous ranking: 5. Stewart, who finished outside the top 20 in his last two starts, finished 15th at Sonoma to stave off No. 6 Elliott Sadler and protect his No. 5 ranking. Sadler closed to one point of Stewart, but the 2002 series champion maintained the No. 5 ranking for the third race week in a row. He also has not been ranked outside of the top five for the last six race weeks. He trails No. 4 Jeff Gordon by 55 points and No. 3 Matt Kenseth by 75 heading into Daytona. Stewart has been hit or miss at Daytona, with four top-10 performances and five finishes of 25th or worse in his 11 career starts. He finished 21st in last season's Pepsi 400, but rebounded strongly earlier this season at the Daytona 500. He finished runner-up -- topping his previous best finish of sixth -- and led 98 laps after leading just seven in his previous 10 appearances.
No. 6 -- Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&M's Ford). Team: Robert Yates Racing. Points: 2067 (-308). Previous ranking: 7. Sadler finished 10th at Sonoma for his second top-10 finish in a row and third in the last five races. The performance allowed him to improve one position to No. 6 as well as close to one point of No. 5 Tony Stewart. He remains one of four drivers to be ranked all season long among the Top 10. Sadler has three top-10 finishes in 11 career starts at Daytona, including as recent as the Daytona 500 earlier this season when he finished seventh. His best performance was runner-up in the 2002 Daytona 500 and his best in this event was third in 2001.
No. 7 -- Bobby Labonte (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet). Team: Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 2018 (-357). Previous ranking: 4. Labonte finished 33rd at Sonoma and the performance cost him three positions as he fell to No. 7. The three-position slide was the largest of the week among the Top 10 as a result of a finish which tied for his season worst (Bristol). It also marked only the third time in the last nine races he has finished outside the top 10. Despite the fall, it marks his eighth consecutive race week in the Top 10 and 10th overall. He is 49 points behind No. 6 Elliott Sadler and 50 behind No. 5 Tony Stewart. Labonte has posted seven top-10 finishes in 23 career starts at Daytona, including a best of second in both events during the 1998 season. He was outstanding at Daytona that season, also starting on the pole in both of those races. However, he has endured his struggles at the 2.5-mile oval with eight of his 23 starts resulting in finishes of 30th or worse. He had a strong run in last season's Pepsi 400, finishing fifth for only his second top-10 finish at Daytona since the 2001 season.
No. 8 -- Kurt Busch (No. 97 IRWIN Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 1993 (-382). Previous ranking: 8. Busch's run of top-12 finishes ended at four following a 36th-place finish at Sonoma. The finish matched his season worst, which occurred at Talladega in late April. Despite the finish, Busch held on to the No. 8 ranking for the second race week in a row and trails No. 7 Bobby Labonte by just 25 points. He has been ranked among the Top 10 for the last 15 consecutive race weeks. Busch has a pair of top-five finishes -- including a best of second in the 2003 Daytona 500 -- in seven career starts at Daytona. He has struggled in the Pepsi 400 in particular, with no finish better than 28th in his three starts in that event. He finished 36th in last season's Pepsi 400.
No. 9 -- Ryan Newman (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge). Team: Penske Racing South. Points: 1980 (-395). Previous ranking: 9. Newman followed up his win at Michigan last week with a 14th-place finish at Sonoma and remained at No. 9 for the second consecutive race week. He has been ranked among the Top 10 for 11 weeks, including the last eight in a row. He trails No. 8 Kurt Busch by 13 points and No. 7 Bobby Labonte by 38 heading into Daytona. Newman finished seventh in the 2002 Pepsi 400, which was his Daytona debut, but has been unable to crack the top 20 in his four appearances since. His best effort during that span was 22nd in last season's Pepsi 400. Daytona is one of the few tracks where Newman has struggled as a qualifier, starting no better than 20th in his five career starts.
No. 10 -- Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet). Team: Richard Childress Racing. Points: 1974 (-401). Previous ranking: 10. Harvick finished 12th at Sonoma to maintain the No. 10 ranking for the second consecutive race week. The finish at Sonoma was just his second among the top 15 in the last six races and it has allowed No. 11 Jamie McMurray to close to 82 points and No. 12 Kasey Kahne to 83 of an automatic berth in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. On the flip side, Harvick is just six points behind No. 9 Ryan Newman and 19 behind No. 8 Kurt Busch as he arrives at Daytona, where he will look to extend his streak of top-10 finishes at the 2.5-mile oval to four. After being unable to crack the top 10 in his first three starts, he has put together a run of three in a row, which includes a best of fourth in the Daytona 500 the past two years. Those performances sandwich a ninth-place effort in last season's Pepsi 400 where he led 54 laps. Harvick has been an excellent qualifier at Daytona with top-10 starts in five of his six visits, including a Bud Pole in this event in 2002. He also has led laps in five of his starts.
Top 10 following Sonoma (Race 16 of 36):
1. Jimmie Johnson 2375 points
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2348 (-27)
3. Matt Kenseth 2143 (-232)
4. Jeff Gordon 2123 (-252)
5. Tony Stewart 2068 (-307)
6. Elliott Sadler 2067 (-308)
7. Bobby Labonte 2018 (-357)
8. Kurt Busch 1993 (-382)
9. Ryan Newman 1980 (-395)
10. Kevin Harvick 1974 (-401)
Weeks at No. 1: Earnhardt Jr., 9; Kenseth, 4; Johnson, 2; Busch, 1.
Most weeks in the Top 10: 16 (tie), Kenseth, Earnhardt Jr., Stewart, Sadler.
New arrivals: None.
Biggest gain: No. 4 Gordon, two positions.
Dropped out: None.
Additional championship qualifiers (within 400 points of the leader) at this stage: None.
Chasing the "Chase" (drivers nearest the 400-point mark): No. 11 Jamie McMurray, 1892 (-83); No. 12 Kasey Kahne, 1891 (-84); No. 13 Jeremy Mayfield, 1851 (-124); No. 14 Dale Jarrett, 1803 (-172); No. 15 Mark Martin, 1789 (-186).