TOP-10 RUNDOWN A weekly look at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series' Top 10 drivers DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 22, 2005) -- The following is a rundown of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 heading into Sunday's Auto Club 500 at California Speedway, the...
A weekly look at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series' Top 10 drivers
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 22, 2005) -- The following is a rundown of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 heading into Sunday's Auto Club 500 at California Speedway, the second of 36 races on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule (3:10 p.m. ET on FOX). The first 26 races of the season will determine who will be part of the "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup" in the final 10 races. 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."
No. 1 -- Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet), Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 185. Gordon won the Daytona 500 for the third time this past Sunday, putting him atop the ladder in the early going to become the 2005 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion. Although he prefers not to speculate on his legacy, Gordon also took a significant step toward his quest for a fifth series title, not to mention joining (or even surpassing) the seven NASCAR NEXTEL Cup championships claimed by Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. This week at California, Gordon returns to a track where he has won a series-high three times, including last year's first race, then held in the spring. Last September, however, he placed 37th, his first DNF and worst finish at California.
No. 2 -- Kurt Busch (No. 97 Sharpie/IRWIN Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 170. The defending NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion jumped out to a good start, finishing second in the Daytona 500. Having picked up just over $1 million, Busch is determined to win back-to-back series titles. Busch also has a victory at California, taking the checkered flag in 2003. He finished 23rd in this race a year ago and 11th at California last September.
No. 3 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet). Team: Dale Earnhardt Inc. Points: 170. The 2004 Daytona 500 winner came close to winning his second consecutive season opener, but slid to third after a late-race pass by Gordon. Earnhardt has yet to win at California; in six races there he has just two top-10 finishes, as well as three DNFs.
No. 4 -- Scott Riggs (No. 10 Valvoline Chevrolet). Team: MB2/Valvoline Motorsports. Points: 160. The second-year NASCAR NEXTEL Cup driver logged his best finish at Daytona, staying tucked in behind Earnhardt and out of trouble. Riggs, who improved his 2004 Daytona 500 performance by 30 positions, was shuffled back to the 24th spot before regrouping with his crew for a top-five finish. Riggs has run twice at California; he was 25th a year ago and scored one of his three career top-10 finishes (seventh) last September.
No. 5 -- Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 160. Johnson got off to a hot Speedweeks start, winning the Budweiser Shootout. He spent much of Sunday hovering among the leaders, but didn't have the muscle at the end to earn his first Daytona 500 crown. Johnson, a California native who many predict will win this season's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup championship, logged a victory at California in his 2002 rookie season, was second in this race a year ago and was 14th there last September.
No. 6 -- Tony Stewart (No. 20 The Home Depot Chevrolet). Team: Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 156. Having won his Gatorade Duel at Daytona 150-mile qualifier and led the majority of Sunday's race, Stewart appeared en route to a rout before passes by Gordon and Earnhardt slid him back to seventh. Stewart has run seven races at California, logging top-10 finishes in his first three races there. Since then, however, he has placed 16th or worse.
No. 7 -- Mark Martin (No. 6 Viagra Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 150. While he will retire at the end of the season without a Daytona 500 victory, Martin was overjoyed to start the season so well after falling to last place in the 2003 race. A contender in the 2004 title chase, Martin was a winner at California in 1998.
No. 8 -- Sterling Marlin (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge). Team: Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Points: 142. The two-time Daytona 500 champion scored his first top-10 finish since a fourth-place effort at Charlotte last October. He has run all nine races at California Speedway, logging three top-10 finishes. Although he has never led at California, he has only one DNF at the track, in the 1997 inaugural event.
No. 9 - Kevin Lepage (No. 37 Patron Tequila Dodge). Team: Matrix Motorsports. Points: 138. Lepage was one of the biggest stories to come out of Daytona, having started his own team during the winter. His ninth-place finish in the Daytona 500 was his first top-10 performance since a 10th at Talladega in October of 2001. Lepage has competed in three races at California, with a best finish of 18th.
No. 10 -- Rusty Wallace (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge). Team: Penske Racing. Points: 134. Like Martin racing his final season, Wallace also will now end his career without a Daytona 500 victory, but he left happy pleased with tenth. Wallace has scored three top-10 finishes in his last four races, since Phoenix last November. He has completed all nine races at California, logging a victory there in 2001 along with five top-10 finishes. Wallace finished 35th in last year's race, his worst performance to date at the track.
Top 10 following Daytona (Race 1 of 36): <pre> 1. Jeff Gordon 185 pts 2. Kurt Busch 170 (-15) 3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 170 (-15) 4. Scott Riggs 160 (-25) 5. Jimmie Johnson 160 (-25) 6. Tony Stewart 156 (-29) 7. Mark Martin 150 (-38) 8. Sterling Marlin 142 (-43) 9. Kevin Lepage 138 (-47) 10. Rusty Wallace 134 (-51) </pre> Weeks at No. 1: Gordon.
Most weeks in the Top 10: 1.
New arrivals this week in the Top 10: N/A.
Dropped out of the Top 10: N/A.
Closing in on the Top 10: No. 11 Elliott Sadler (130); No. 12 Joe Nemechek (129); No. 13 Carl Edwards (127); No. 14 Dave Blaney (121), No. 15 Dale Jarrett (118).