At A Glance A weekly look at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Top 10 drivers DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 5, 2004) -- The following is a glance at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 in the championship following the season's seventh race,...
At A Glance
A weekly look at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Top 10 drivers
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 5, 2004) -- The following is a glance at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 in the championship following the season's seventh race, held this past Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. The series is off this week due to Easter Sunday, and returns April 18 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway with the Advance Auto Parts 500.
Martinsville is one of three short tracks -- the designation is for tracks less than one mile -- on the series schedule, joined by Bristol Motor Speedway and Richmond International Raceway. Martinsville, with a unique, paper-clip shaped oval, is the shortest of the short, at .526-mile.
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.
This week's rundown of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10:
No. 1 -- Kurt Busch (No. 97 IRWIN Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 1,032. Previous ranking: 2. Busch finished sixth at Texas to take over the top spot for the first time this season and the second time in his career. He has advanced from 16th to first in the six races since the season-opening Daytona 500, a run highlighted by a victory at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 28. Busch has five top-10 finishes this season. At Martinsville, he has two top-10 finishes in seven races, including a victory in October 2002. Last season's Martinsville visits, however, were disappointing as Busch finished 28th and 39th.
No. 2 -- Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 1,013 (-19). Previous ranking: 1. Kenseth's 16th-place finish at Texas cost him the points lead. On the upside, the reigning series champion has been in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 since the February 2003 Rockingham event -- a string of 42 consecutive races. Looking ahead to Martinsville, Kenseth has competed in eight races at the testing 5.26-mile oval, with only two top-10 results. But he does have a second-place showing, that coming in April 2002. Kenseth finished 22nd and 13th in the 2003 season's two Martinsville events.
No. 3 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet). Team: Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Points: 997 (-35). Previous ranking: 3. Returning to the scene of his first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup victory (in 2000), Earnhardt finished fourth at Texas, continuing a show of consistency; that marked his fifth top-10 finish of the season. At Martinsville, Earnhardt has four consecutive top-10 finishes.
No. 4 -- Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet). Team Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 946 (-86). Previous ranking: 4. A solid eighth-place run at Texas enabled Stewart to retain the No. 4 slot in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10. Texas was Stewart's fourth top-10 finish of the season. Stewart, the 2002 series champion, has raced 10 times at Martinsville, winning there in October 2000. Overall he has six top 10s at the short track and has led a total of 346 laps.
No. 5 -- Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&M's Ford). Team: Robert Yates Racing. Points 942 (-90). Previous ranking: 9. Sadler won at Texas -- his second career victory in NASCAR's premier series, following the 2001 spring Bristol win. Sadler has four top-10 finishes this season, the reason he's 15 spots higher in points compared to this time last season. Martinsville Speedway has been a bit of a puzzle for Sadler; in 10 races, he has only one top-10 finish, a fifth in last year's spring race. Last fall at the half-mile, he ran 28th.
No. 6 -- Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 923 (-109). Previous ranking: 6. Johnson has been sixth in points for three consecutive weeks. His ninth-place Texas effort was his fourth top-10 run of the year. Johnson has only four previous races at Martinsville -- after all, he's only in his third year in NASCAR's premier series -- but he has three top-10 finishes. His best Martinsville finish is second, coming last October.
No. 7 -- Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge). Team: Evernham Motorsports. Points: 902 (-130). Previous ranking: 11. At Texas, Kahne got his third runner-up finish on the season, which vaulted him four spots in the points. Kahne and Earnhardt are the only drivers with four top-five finishes this season. Kahne, a Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate will make his first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup start at Martinsville.
No. 8 -- Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet). Team: Richard Childress Racing. Points: 897 (-135). Previous ranking: 7. A 13th-place Texas finish dropped Harvick one spot this week in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10. Nonetheless, he's still ahead of last year's pace when he was 10th at this stage. In five previous races at Martinsville, Harvick has one top-10 finish, a seventh last October.
No. 9 -- Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 891 (-141). Previous ranking: 12. The four-time series champion was third at Texas, enabling a quick exit from the unfamiliar territory of being outside the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10. Gordon now has five top-10 finishes this season. Don't be surprised if he continues to advance. Gordon has been in 22 Martinsville races. He has five victories there, including last season's sweep.
No. 10 -- Ryan Newman (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge). Team: Penske Racing South. Points: 834 (-198). Previous ranking: 5. A mid-race accident led to a 39th-place result at Texas and dropped Newman four spots in the points. Newman has four top-10 finishes this season. At Martinsville, he has raced four times with one top-10, a fifth last October. In last year's spring Martinsville race Newman was 38th.
Top 10 following Texas (Race 7 of 36):
1. Kurt Busch 1,032 points
2. Matt Kenseth 1,013 (19)
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 997 (-35)
4. Tony Stewart 946 (-86)
5. Elliott Sadler 942 (-86)
6. Jimmie Johnson 923 (-109)
7. Kasey Kahne 902 (-130)
8. Kevin Harvick 897 (-135)
9. Jeff Gordon 891 (-141)
10. Ryan Newman 834 (-198)
Weeks at No. 1: 4, Kenseth; 2, Earnhardt; 1, Busch.
Most weeks in the Top 10: 7 (tie), Kenseth, Earnhardt Jr., Stewart, Sadler.
New arrivals in the Top 10: No. 7 Kahne, No. 9 Gordon.
Biggest gain in the Top 10: 4 positions, No. 5 Sadler and No. 7 Kahne.
Dropped out of the Top 10: Previous No. 8 Jeremy Mayfield, previous No. 10 Sterling Marlin.
Closing in on the Top 10: No. 11 Rusty Wallace 825 (-9); No. 12 Mayfield (-9); No. 13 Jamie McMurray (-16); No. 14 Marlin (-17); No. 15 Bobby Labonte (-33). McMurray 684 (-43); No. 15 Martin, 677 (-50).