Top 10 at a glance 2004-07-12

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 the July 25 New England 300 at New ...

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 the July 25 New England 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway (2:00 p.m. ET, NBC), Race 19 of 36 on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule. The series is off this week for the final time this year before returning at Loudon. 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: 2720. Previous ranking: 1. Johnson posted his second consecutive runner-up finish Sunday at Chicagoland and in the process collected his fifth top-five finish in succession, and 10th in his last 11 races. His finish enabled Johnson to extend his lead over No. 2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. to 105 points, the largest cushion a leader has had thus far in 2004 and turning around Johnson's 98-point deficit to Earnhardt Jr. following Dover. Johnson has spent 15 consecutive weeks in the Top 10 dating back to Atlanta. Johnson leads the series with 13 top five and 14 top-10 finishes. He swept both races at New Hampshire last season, and has three top-10 finishes in his four career races at the 1.058-mile track.

No. 2 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet). Team: Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Points: 2615 (-105). Previous ranking: 2. Earnhardt Jr. finished 22nd at Chicago, his second-worst showing of the season (35th at Atlanta), and his third result outside the top 10 in his last four races. Despite falling 105 points behind Johnson, he remains second in the standings for the fourth straight week and has a 137-point advantage over hard-charging Jeff Gordon. Earnhardt Jr. has been in the Top 10 for 51 consecutive race weeks, second only to Matt Kenseth's active Top-10 streak of 53. His nine top-five finishes are second in the series to Johnson while his 12 top-10 efforts are third overall. Earnhardt Jr. remains the season leader in consecutive (seven) and overall (nine) weeks at No. 1. He has three top-10 finishes in nine races at New Hampshire, including a career-best fifth-place finish at NHIS last fall.

No. 3 -- Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 2478 (-242). Previous ranking: 3. Gordon finished fourth at Chicagoland Sunday, his third straight top-five finish. He also sat on the pole for the fourth straight race, a first in his career and the first time in the series since 1985. Gordon remained third in the Top 10 for the second straight week and is 137 points behind No. 2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. and 242 in back of teammate Jimmie Johnson. Gordon has gained 604 points over the last five races, and his four wins (two in succession at Sonoma and Daytona) lead the series while his 13 top-10 finishes rank second to Johnson. Gordon has also posted seven top-five finishes overall this year. In the Top 10 for 12 consecutive weeks, the four-time premier series champion enters New Hampshire with three wins and three poles in 18 races at Loudon, but has finished 14th or worse in his last five races there.

No. 4 -- Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet). Team Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 2393 (-327). Previous ranking: 4. Despite being forced to use a backup car due to a practice accident, Stewart claimed his first victory of the season Sunday at Chicagoland and remained in fourth place in the Top 10 for the second straight week. After three races with finishes of 15th or worse, Stewart has rebounded with two top-five finishes in his last two races. Stewart is one of four drivers to rank in the Top 10 for the first half of the season. He trails Jeff Gordon by 60 points, and has a good history at New Hampshire with one win and six top-10 finishes in his previous 10 races. However, like Gordon, Stewart's latest performances at NHIS have been below par, with finishes of 22nd and 20th in last year's summer and fall events, respectively.

No. 5 -- Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 2321 (-399). Previous ranking: 5. Kenseth finished 12th at Chicago, his best finish in two races and his second-best effort in his last six outings. The 2003 series champion remains fifth in the Top 10 for the second straight week and has been ranked in the Top 10 for 53 consecutive race weeks, the longest active streak in the series. Three DNFs this season have not deterred Kenseth -- he led the standings for four weeks in succession earlier this year -- and has been no lower than ninth (following the season-opening Daytona 500). He has six top-five finishes and 10 top 10s at the season's midway point. Kenseth has recorded four top 10s at New Hampshire, and was third in this race one year ago.

No. 6 -- Bobby Labonte (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet). Team: Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 2278 (-442). Previous ranking: 6. Labonte finished 18th at Chicago, continuing an up-and-down series of results in his last four races. He maintains his No. 6 standing in the Top 10 for the second week in a row, 43 points behind No. 5 Matt Kenseth but only 26 ahead of No. 7 Elliott Sadler. Just 105 points separate Labonte from No. 10 Ryan Newman. Labonte has held steady in the Top 10 for 10 straight weeks. Labonte has eight top-10 finishes at New Hampshire in 18 career races with six of those in his last nine starts.

No. 7 -- Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&M's Ford). Team: Robert Yates Racing. Points: 2252 (-468). Previous ranking: 8. Despite his second straight finish of 20th or worse Sunday at Chicago, Sadler moves up one spot to No. 7 in this week's Top 10. He also remains one of four drivers to be ranked among the Top 10 all season. Solidly in the hunt to gain positions -- he sits 26 points behind No. 6 Bobby Labonte and 69 behind No. 5 Matt Kenseth -- Sadler is also in a precarious situation with those in arrears. No. 8 Kevin Harvick is within 23 points of Sadler's position while No. 9 Kurt Busch is 41 points behind. Sadler has only two top-10 finishes in 10 starts at New Hampshire, and was 27th in this race last season.

No. 8 -- Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet). Team: Richard Childress Racing. Points: 2229 (-491). Previous ranking: 10. After three weeks at No. 10, Harvick gained the most postions -- two -- in this week's Top 10 with a 10th-place finish at Chicago, a dominant track for him. The finish was his best in six races, dating back to a 10th-place effort at Dover. Harvick is now 23 points behind No. 7 Elliott Sadler, but has little breathing room with No. 9 Kurt Busch 18 points behind and No. 10 Ryan Newman lurking 56 points away. Harvick has been in the Top 10 for 16 weeks this season and the last 13 in succession. Harvick has pushed his consecutive races finished without a DNF to 57, which bodes well heading to New Hampshire where he has three top-10 finishes and was second in this race last season.

No. 9 -- Kurt Busch (No. 97 IRWIN Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 2211 (-509). Previous ranking: 7. Busch fell two spots this week -- the furthest of any driver in the Top 10 -- following a disappointing 35th at Chicago where he was involved in an accident with Ryan Newman just 12 laps into the race. Busch has finished 35th or worse in two of his last three races, and has only two top 10s in two of his previous 11 outings. Still, he has been ranked in the Top 10 in all but the first week of this season (and was ranked No. 1 following Bristol), and is within quick striking distance of No. 8 Kevin Harvick (-18). However, he also feels the heat from No. 10 Ryan Newman, who is 38 points behind. Busch has had lukewarm success at New Hampshire with two top-10 finishes in six career races there.

No. 10 -- Ryan Newman (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge). Team: Penske Racing South. Points: 2173 (-547). Previous ranking: 9. Newman finished 34th at Chicago after a Lap 12 accident relegated him to only 166 of the 267-lap event. As a result, he fell one spot to No. 10 in the rankings, 65 points ahead of No. 11 Jeremy Mayfield and 90 in front of No. 12 Dale Jarrett, who made the biggest gain -- three spots -- among those vying for a berth in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. Newman has been in this position before, falling out of the Top 10 to 11th following Martinsville, but rebounded to regain ninth place after Talladega and has been in the Top 10 in each of the nine weeks since. When the series returns to New Hampshire following the break, Newman will be a favorite. He has one win and four top-10 finishes in four career races at Loudon and has also won the pole in the last two summer events.

Fast Facts

Top 10 following Chicagoland (Race 18 of 36):
1. Jimmie Johnson 2720 points
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2615 (-105)
3. Jeff Gordon 2478 (-242)
4. Tony Stewart 2393 (-327)
5. Matt Kenseth 2321 (-399)
6. Bobby Labonte 2278 (-442)
7. Elliott Sadler 2252 (-468)
8. Kevin Harvick 2229 (-491)
9. Kurt Busch 2211 (-509)
10. Ryan Newman 2173 (-547)

Weeks at No. 1: Earnhardt Jr., 9; Kenseth, 4; Johnson, 4; Busch, 1.

Most weeks in the Top 10: 18 (tie), Kenseth, Earnhardt Jr., Stewart, Sadler.

New arrivals: None.

Biggest gain: No. 8 Harvick, 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 Jeremy Mayfield, 2108 (-65); No. 12 Dale Jarrett, 2083 (-90); No. 13 Jamie McMurray, 2068 (-105); No. 14 Kasey Kahne, 2044 (-129); No. 15 Mark Martin, 2035 (-138); No. 16 Casey Mears, 1998 (-175).

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Jeremy Mayfield , Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Casey Mears , Jimmie Johnson , Kasey Kahne , Robert Yates , Elliott Sadler , Mark Martin
Teams Team Penske , Hendrick Motorsports , Joe Gibbs Racing , Yates Racing