NASCAR Top 10 at a Glance: A weekly look at NASCAR Winston Cup's Top 10 drivers DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 25, 2003) -- The following is a glance at the NASCAR Top 10 in the championship heading into Sunday's Mountain Dew Southern 500...
NASCAR Top 10 at a Glance: A weekly look at NASCAR Winston Cup's Top 10 drivers
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 25, 2003) -- The following is a glance at the NASCAR Top 10 in the championship heading into Sunday's Mountain Dew Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, Race 25 of 36 on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series schedule. Each driver also has an outlook for projected movement in the NASCAR Top 10 based on past performance at this weekend's track.
No. 1 -- Matt Kenseth
(No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Ford), Roush Racing. Points: 3592. Previous ranking: 1. Kenseth finished fourth at Bristol for his fourth consecutive top-10 finish and fifth in the last six races. The effort also was his 10th top-five finish of the season, tying him for the series lead with Bobby Labonte. Kenseth padded his lead by 22 more points over No. 2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. and now leads by 351. He is ranked No. 1 for the 21st consecutive week, dating to Atlanta when he took over the top spot from Michael Waltrip. Kenseth has finished outside the top 20 in four of his eight career starts at Darlington, but has rebounded of late with two top-10 finishes in his last three appearances. He finished eighth in the spring race this season and last, which sandwiched a 37th-place finish in last year's Mountain Dew Southern 500. His best effort at Darlington is sixth, which came in the 2000 spring race where he also led his only laps (3) at the 1.366-mile oval. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: " (neutral).
No. 2 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
(No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet), Dale Earnhardt Inc. Points: 3241. Previous ranking: 2. Earnhardt Jr. finished ninth at Bristol for his fourth top-10 finish in his last six starts, but still lost ground to No. 1 Matt Kenseth. He fell 22 more points behind Kenseth, who finished fourth at Bristol, and trails by 351 overall. Earnhardt Jr. maintained the No. 2 ranking for the fifth consecutive race week and has been among the top three in the championship hunt for 17 weeks in a row. Earnhardt Jr. had just one finish better than 17th in his four career starts at Darlington, but has rebounded with top-six finishes in two of his last three appearances. He led 91 laps and finished fourth in the spring race last season and followed with a sixth in the same event this year. The performances sandwiched a 16th-place finish in last year's Mountain Dew Southern 500. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:
No. 3 -- Kevin Harvick
(No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet), Richard Childress Racing. Points: 3128. Previous ranking: 4. Harvick, riding a streak of three consecutive top-five finishes, extended it to four in a row with a runner-up finish to Kurt Busch at Bristol. He also has finished among the top two in four of his last six races, including his first win of the season coming at Indianapolis. The effort moved him up one position to No. 3, which is a season-best ranking. He is 113 points behind No. 2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. In Harvick's last eight races, he has led in six of those events for a total of 271 laps after leading just 53 laps in the first 16 races. He heads to Darlington where he enjoyed initial success -- a pair of top-10 finishes and top-five starts in his first three appearances -- but has struggled in his last two appearances. He started 17th and finished 40th in last season's Mountain Dew Southern 500 and started 33rd and finished 36th in the spring event this season. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: " (neutral).
No. 4 -- Jimmie Johnson
(No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet), Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 3063. Previous ranking: 6. Johnson, who had finished 15th or worse in three of his last four starts, rebounded with a fifth-place finish at Bristol. The performance, his sixth top-five effort of the season, was timely as he moved up two positions in the NASCAR Top 10 to No. 4. He is 65 points behind No. 3 Kevin Harvick. Johnson, along with Michael Waltrip, remain the only drivers to be ranked in the NASCAR Top 10 for the entire season. Johnson was quite impressive during his rookie season last year at Darlington, qualifying and finishing among the top 10 in both starts. Johnson started fifth and finished sixth in the spring race and in the Mountain Dew Southern 500 he qualified fifth and finished ninth while leading his first laps (17) at Darlington. His first misstep came this spring, when he finished 27th. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:
No. 5 -- Jeff Gordon
(No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet), Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 3060. Previous ranking: 3. Gordon's recent struggles continued as he finished 28th at Bristol as a result of an accident. It was his fifth finish of 24th or worse in his last six starts despite starting on the pole and leading a race-high 179 laps. The finish dropped him two positions to No. 5 and ended a 12-week stay among the top three in the NASCAR Winston Cup championship battle. He is three points behind No. 4 Jimmie Johnson and 68 behind No. 3 Kevin Harvick and needs a turnaround at Darlington. Darlington is known as "The Track Too Tough To Tame," but Gordon has had his way with the 1.366-mile oval. He has recorded six wins at Darlington, including last season's Mountain Dew Southern 500, and 14 top-10 finishes overall in his last 18 starts, which includes a run of eight top-three performances from September of 1995 through March of 1999. He has led 22 or more laps in his last 10 starts at Darlington and 15 of the last 16. He has been an outstanding qualifier with 17 top-10 starts in his last 18 appearances, including three Bud Poles. He enters this weekend with a 10-race streak of starting among the top 10 at Darlington. Earlier this spring at Darlington, he started fifth and finished 33rd despite leading 79 laps. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:
No. 6 -- Kurt Busch
(No. 97 Rubbermaid Ford), Roush Racing. Points: 2990. Previous ranking: 9. Busch won Saturday night's Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway for his fourth victory of the season. His four wins are one shy of the series lead of five held by Ryan Newman. The victory was a major boost for Busch in the NASCAR Top 10 as he improved three positions to No. 6. It is his highest ranking in eight race weeks, dating to his No. 6 ranking following Sonoma. After finishing 28th or worse in his first three starts at Darlington, Busch has posted top-10 finishes in his last two starts. He finished seventh in last year's Mountain Dew Southern 500 and was second earlier this spring in that dramatic battle in the waning laps with eventual winner Ricky Craven. He has two top-10 starts in his five career appearances, including a pole in the 2001 Mountain Dew Southern 500. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:
No. 7 -- Ryan Newman
(No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge), Penske Racing South. Points: 2971. Previous ranking: 8. Newman finished sixth at Bristol for his 10th top-10 finish in his last 13 starts. That run includes four of his series-leading five wins and has vaulted him from 27th in the NASCAR Winston Cup championship to his current No. 7 ranking. His Bristol performance moved him up one position to No. 7, which is a season best ranking for him. He led 30 laps at Bristol, marking the sixth race in the last seven that he has led at least 29 laps. Newman was quite impressive during his rookie season last year at Darlington, a track that traditionally is a nightmare for first-time visitors. He has qualified and finished among the top five in two of his three career starts at the 1.533-mile oval. In his Darlington debut in the spring race of last season, he started third and finished fifth. He returned for the Mountain Dew Southern 500 and qualified 12th and finished runner-up to Jeff Gordon. Earlier this spring, he started on the outside pole and finished 14th. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:
No. 8 -- Michael Waltrip
(No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet), Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Points: 2960. Previous ranking: 5. Waltrip, who won Friday night's NASCAR Busch Series race, endured his worst finish of the season after an accident relegated him to a 42nd-place effort at Bristol. It was costly as he dropped three positions to No. 8 in the NASCAR Top 10 this week. However, he is just 11 points behind No. 7 Ryan Newman. Waltrip remains one of two drivers (Jimmie Johnson is the other) to be ranked in the NASCAR Top 10 for every week of the season, which included the No. 1 ranking on two occasions. Waltrip is coming off one of his best overall performances at Darlington as he qualified and finished among the top 10 in the spring race, marking only the third time -- and first since 1991 -- in his 36 career starts he has done so at the 1.533-mile oval. He started ninth and finished fifth for his first top-10 effort at Darlington since taking ninth in August of 1997, a run of 10 races. Overall, he has eight top-10 finishes in his career at Darlington, including a personal-best of third in which he led 208 laps in the spring of 1991. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: " (neutral).
No. 9 -- Bobby Labonte
(No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet), Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 2907. Previous ranking: 7. Labonte's slump continued with a 27th-place finish at Bristol. It marked his seventh consecutive start where he has not finished better than 14th and includes three efforts of 30th or worse due to DNFs. He has slipped from No. 4 to No. 9 in the NASCAR Top 10 during the slump, which included a drop of two positions this week. He is 53 points behind No. 8 Michael Waltrip. He also had a streak of five consecutive top-10 starts, which included a Bud Pole at Michigan, ending at Bristol when he qualified 19th. Labonte has eight top-10 finishes, including a win in the 2000 Southern 500, in 21 career starts at Darlington, but has just one in his last five starts since that victory. That also came in the Mountain Dew Southern 500 as he finished third in 2001. He finished 15th in last year's Mountain Dew Southern 500 and 37th earlier this season in the spring event. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: " (neutral).
No. 10 -- Robby Gordon
(No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet), Richard Childress Racing. Points: 2835. Previous ranking: 10. Gordon finished 35th at Bristol, ending his streak of consecutive top-10 finishes at three. He maintained his season-best ranking of No. 10 for the third race week in a row and is 72 points behind No. 9 Bobby Labonte. However, Gordon has had his problems at Darlington, finishing 22nd or worse in six of his seven career starts. His best effort came in last season's Mountain Dew Southern 500 when he started 22nd and finished 17th, both personal bests. In the spring race this season, he finished 28th but did lead his first career lap at Darlington. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: --
NASCAR Top 10 this week:
1. Matt Kenseth 3592 points
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 3241 (-351)
3. Kevin Harvick 3128 (-464)
4. Jimmie Johnson 3063 (-529)
5. Jeff Gordon 3060 (-532)
6. Kurt Busch 2990 (-602)
7. Ryan Newman 2971 (-621)
8. Michael Waltrip 2960 (-632)
9. Bobby Labonte 2907 (-685)
10. Robby Gordon 2835 (-757)
Weeks at No. 1: Kenseth, 21; Waltrip, 2; Busch, 1.
New arrivals in the NASCAR Top 10 this week: None.
Most weeks in the NASCAR Top 10: Waltrip, Johnson, 24; Kenseth, Busch, 23; Earnhardt Jr., Harvick, 21.
Largest gain among the NASCAR Top 10: No. 6 Busch, 3 positions.
Dropped out of the NASCAR Top 10 this week: None.