NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 at a Glance A weekly look at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Top 10 drivers DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 26, 2004) -- The following is a glance at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 in the championship entering Sunday's...
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 at a Glance
A weekly look at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Top 10 drivers
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 26, 2004) -- The following is a glance at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 in the championship entering Sunday's Auto Club 500 at California Speedway (FOX, 3 p.m. ET), Race 10 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: 1347. Previous ranking: 1. Earnhardt Jr. finished runner-up to Jeff Gordon in Sunday's Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway for his series-leading sixth top-five performance of the season and third in a row. Earnhardt Jr., who was ranked No. 1 last week and held a five- and 12-point advantage, respectively, over his two closest pursuers, was able to extend his championship lead to 94 points over No. 2 Jimmie Johnson and 111 over No. 3 Gordon. It marks his fourth race week overall at No. 1 and ties him for the series high with Matt Kenseth. Earnhardt Jr. is one of four drivers to be ranked among the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 for the entire season, and he has been in the top 10 for 41 consecutive weeks, dating to last season. It is the second-longest active streak in the series. Earnhardt Jr. has a pair of top-10 finishes in four career starts at California Speedway, both of which have come in his odd-year appearances. He finished third in 2001 and added a sixth last season. He has led just one lap at California, and it came in 2001.
No. 2 -- Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 1253 (-94). Previous ranking: 4. Johnson finished fourth at Talladega for his second consecutive top-five effort and fourth in the last six races. The performance allowed Johnson to move up two positions in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 to a season-high No. 2 ranking. He trails No. 1 Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 94 points. Johnson, a native of El Cajon, Calif., returns home this week to the site of his first career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup victory. He started fourth and led 62 laps en route to the win in April of 2001. Last season he finished 16th.
No. 3 -- Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 1236 (-111). Previous ranking: 7. Gordon won Sunday's Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway for his first win of the season and 65th of his career. Gordon, whose last win came at Atlanta in October of last season (12 races ago), became the seventh different winner in nine races this season. The win was his fourth consecutive top-10 finish and seventh this season, which is tied with No. 1 Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the series lead. Gordon was tied for the biggest move among the top 10 this week as he improved four positions to a season-high No. 3 ranking. He trails teammate Jimmie Johnson, who is at No. 2, by 17 points and Earnhardt Jr. by 111. Gordon arrives at California Speedway this weekend as the only driver in the seven-year history of the event to win at the 2-mile oval more than once. He was victorious in the inaugural event in 1997 and added his second in 1999. Overall, he has four top-five finishes in seven career starts, his most recent being a runner-up finish in 2001. Last season, he finished 11th. He has led 329 laps at California Speedway, which ranks first among all drivers, but has not led a lap in his last two appearances.
No. 4 -- Kurt Busch (No. 97 IRWIN Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 1222 (-125). Previous ranking: 2. Busch finished 36th at Talladega due to an accident and the season-worst outing dropped him two positions to No. 4 in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10. It was his first finish in nine starts outside of the top 16, but he remains among the top five in the rankings for the fifth consecutive race week. He trails No. 3 Jeff Gordon by 14 points and No. 1 Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 125. Busch is the defending champion of the Auto Club 500 and has registered two top-three finishes in three career starts at California Speedway. His other top performance came the previous year when he started and finished second in 2002. He has led 129 laps in his last two appearances, including 102 in '02.
No. 5 -- Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 1192 (-155). Previous ranking: 3. Kenseth, the defending series champion who has been ranked No. 1 for four race weeks this season, finished a season-worst 42nd at Talladega due to engine woes. It marked only the second time this season he finished outside the top 16 and only the third time outside of the top 10. He is one of four drivers ranked among the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 all season and has been ranked among the top 10 in the championship for 43 consecutive race weeks dating to last season. The streak ranks first among active drivers in the series. Kenseth has posted two top-10 finishes in four career starts in California, including ninth last season. His best performance came in his debut at the 2-mile oval in 2000 when he led 120 laps and finished third.
No. 6 -- Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet). Team: Richard Childress Racing. Points: 1173 (-174). Previous ranking: 10. Harvick matched his season-best performance with a third-place finish at Talladega and improved four positions to No. 6 in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10. The jump in the rankings matched No. 3 Jeff Gordon for the largest gain of the week and it also moved him to 19 points of No. 5 Matt Kenseth. Harvick, who also finished third at Bristol, has three top-five finishes on the season, including two in his last four starts. Harvick, a native of Bakersfield, Calif., has struggled in his return to his home state as he has finished no better than 25th (2001) in three career starts at California Speedway. Last season he finished 29th.
No. 7 -- Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet). Team Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 1169 (-178). Previous ranking: 6. Stewart finished 22nd at Talladega to drop one position to No. 7, his lowest ranking this season. He is one of four drivers to be ranked all season and has been ranked among the top five for six of the nine race weeks. He remains within striking distance of returning quickly -- he trails No. 6 Kevin Harvick by four and No. 5 Matt Kenseth by 23 -- as he prepares for the Auto Club 500 at California Speedway. Stewart has three top-10 finishes in five career starts, and those all came in his first three appearances. His best was a fourth in 1999 and he matched the effort in 2001. The top-10 run has been interrupted by a 29th-place finish in 2002 and 41st last season due to a DNF (Did Not Finish) for an engine problem after leading 100 laps. He has been strong on the qualifying side with four of the five starts among the top 10, including a best of third last season.
No. 8 -- Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&M's Ford). Team: Robert Yates Racing. Points 1153 (-194). Previous ranking: 5. Sadler's two-race week stay at No. 5 ended as a 28th-place finish at Talladega dropped him to No. 8 in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10. It marked the first time in the last five races that he finished outside the top 15. He remains one of four drivers to be ranked in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 all season, including a high of No. 3 following Las Vegas. He is just 16 points behind No. 7 Tony Stewart and 20 behind No. 6 Kevin Harvick. Sadler will look to snap a drought at California Speedway, where he has yet to post a top-20 finish in five career starts. His best effort came in his first start at the 2-mile oval in 1999 when he finished 21st. On the plus side, he has started among the top 10 in his last two visits, including a best of fifth last season.
No. 9 -- Ryan Newman (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge). Team: Penske Racing South. Points: 1129 (-218). Previous ranking: 11. Newman finished 11th at Talladega to return to the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Top 10 at No. 9 following a one-race absence. Newman improved from No. 11 and returns to the top 10 for his fourth race week of the season, which includes a season-high ranking of No. 5 following Bristol. He trails No. 8 Elliott Sadler by 24 points. Newman has qualified well at California Speedway -- winning the Bud Pole in 2002 and starting fourth last season -- but he is still chasing his first top-10 finish at the 2-mile oval. He finished 14th in 2002 and 42nd last season due to an accident.
No. 10 -- Bobby Labonte (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet). Team: Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 1110 (-237). Previous ranking: 12. Labonte finished 10th at Talladega to return to the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Top 10 at No. 10 after a three-race absence. He improved two positions from No. 12 and is among the top 10 for the first time since being ranked a season-high No. 8 following Darlington. Overall, it is his third race week in the top 10. Labonte has recorded four top-10 finishes in seven career starts at California Speedway, including three top-three performances in his last five appearances. He finished runner-up to Kurt Busch last season, matching his personal-best finish at the 2-mile oval established in 2000.
Top 10 following Talladega (Race 9 of 36):
1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 1347 points
2. Jimmie Johnson 1253 (-94)
3. Jeff Gordon 1236 (-111)
4. Kurt Busch 1222 (-125)
5. Matt Kenseth 1192 (-155)
6. Kevin Harvick 1173 (-174)
7. Tony Stewart 1169 (-178)
8. Elliott Sadler 1153 (-194)
9. Ryan Newman 1129 (-218)
10. Bobby Labonte 1110 (-237)
Weeks at No. 1: Kenseth, Earnhardt Jr., 4; Busch, 1.
Most weeks in the Top 10: 9 (tie), Kenseth, Earnhardt Jr., Stewart, Sadler.
New arrivals in the Top 10: No. 9 Newman; No. 10 B. Labonte.
Biggest gain in the Top 10: No. 3 J. Gordon, No. 6 Harvick, four positions.
Dropped out of the Top 10: No. 8 R. Wallace, No. 9 Kahne.
Closing in on the Top 10: No. 11 McMurray, 1082 (-28); No. 12 Kahne, 1080 (-30); No. 13 R. Wallace, 1074 (-36).