TOP-10 RUNDOWN A weekly look at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Top 10 drivers DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 28, 2005) -- The following is a rundown of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 heading into the March 13 UAW-DaimlerChrylser 400 at Las Vegas Motor ...
A weekly look at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Top 10 drivers
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 28, 2005) -- The following is a rundown of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 heading into the March 13 UAW-DaimlerChrylser 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the third of 36 races on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup schedule (3:05 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 -- Kurt Busch (No. 97 Sharpie/IRWIN Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 340. Previous ranking: 2. The reigning NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion wasn't out of the top spot long, advancing on the strength of a third-place finish at California, his second consecutive top-5 performance in as many weeks. Dating to last season, Busch has 11 top-10 finishes in the last 12 races. In four races at Las Vegas, Busch has only one top-10 finish, a ninth last year. For the sake of a year-ago comparison, Busch ranked seventh in the point standings two races into the 2004 season.
No. 2 -- Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 335 (-5). Previous ranking: 5. Finishing last season on a tear (he won four of the last six races) Johnson has picked up where he left off, logging a second-place effort at California. He not only extended his top-10 streak of eight consecutive finishes of sixth or better since Charlotte last October, but joins Busch as the only drivers to start 2005 with two top-five finishes. Johnson has one top-10 finish at Las Vegas (sixth in his 2002 rookie season) and was 16th last year, his worst showing at the track. Heading into the third race in 2004, Johnson was 25th in the standings.
No. 3 -- Mark Martin (No. 6 Viagra Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 301 (-39). Previous ranking: 7. Ranked 28th in the point standings at this time last season, a rejuvenated Martin has scored four top-10 finishes in his last six races, dating to Atlanta last November. A seventh at California in addition to a sixth in the Daytona 500 season-opener has Martin revved for his final fulltime season of NASCAR NEXTEL Cup competition. Martin has run all seven races at Las Vegas with six top-10 finishes, including a victory in 1998. He finished fifth at Las Vegas last year.
No. 4 -- Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 287 (-53). Previous ranking: 13. The youngest (age 25) and most recent addition to the Roush operation, Edwards jumped into the top 10 in the standings off a fifth-place showing at California. The finish was his second career top-five result in just 15 starts, giving him his best-ever career ranking. "It's one thing to follow these guys; it's another to the guy out front with them chasing you," said Edwards, who led three times for 33 laps at California. "It gives us a lot of confidence." Edwards' start at Las Vegas will be his first at that track in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup competition.
No. 5 -- Greg Biffle (No. 16 National Guard/Subway Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 273 (-67). Previous ranking: 25th. Biffle's fourth career victory gave him his best ranking in the standings to date and his first entry into the top 10 in 80 races. The only driver to win titles in the NASCAR Busch Series (2002) and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (2000), Biffle helped team owner Roush place four drivers in the top 10 in the standings for the first time since August of 2003 at Michigan: Biffle (1st); Martin (2nd); Busch (6th), Matt Kenseth (8th) and Edwards (10th). In his first and only NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race at Las Vegas, Biffle finished 40th last year.
No. 6 -- Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&M's Ford). Team: Robert Yates Racing. Points: 272 (-68). Previous ranking: 11. Sadler joined the top-10 roster with an eighth-place showing at California, giving him two top-15 finishes in two races this season. Sadler has only one top-10 finish at Las Vegas, a sixth in this race last year. His other finishes at Las Vegas were 20th or worse. Sadler was ranked eighth in the standings at this point last season.
No. 7 -- Tony Stewart (No. 20 The Home Depot Chevrolet). Team: Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 268 (-72). Previous ranking: 6. After finishing seventh in the Daytona 500, Stewart was 17th at California, knocking him down one position in the standings. Stewart has four top-five finishes in his last five races at Las Vegas; his 125 laps-led total is fifth at the track among all drivers. He finished third in this race last year, and was ranked sixth in the standings after two races.
No. 8 -- Rusty Wallace (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge). Team: Penske Racing. Points: 268 (-72). Previous ranking: 10. Wallace has two 10th-place finishes this season. Looking for his 56th career victory in his final year of NASCAR NEXTEL Cup racing, the 1989 series champion has scored four top-10 finishes in his last five races, dating to Phoenix last November. He has three top 10s in seven races at Las Vegas, including a 10th last year. Wallace was 13th in the standings at this point last season.
No. 9 -- Sterling Marlin (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge). Team: Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Points: 260 (-80). Previous ranking: 8. Marlin finished 15th at California, his second consecutive top-15 finish this year. In seven races at Las Vegas, Marlin has three top 10s, and has been running at the end of each event. Marlin placed 18th in this race a year ago; after two events in 2004 he was ranked 28th in the standings.
No. 10 -- Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 258 (-82). Previous ranking: 1. Following his victory at Daytona, Gordon dropped from first to 10th in the rankings with a 30th-place finish at California, his first DNF (engine failure) since last September at the same track. Gordon has run all seven races at Las Vegas with mixed results; he had a victory there in 2001 and has two top-10 finishes, but he also has five finishes of 15th or worse. He finished 15th at Las Vegas last year.
Top 10 following California (Race 2 of 36):
1. Kurt Busch 340 pts.
2. Jimmie Johnson 335 (-5)
3. Mark Martin 301 (-39)
4. Carl Edwards 287 (-53)
5. Greg Biffle 273 (-67)
6. Elliott Sadler 272 (-68)
7. Tony Stewart 268 (-72)
8. Rusty Wallace 268 (-72)
9. Sterling Marlin 260 (-80)
10. Jeff Gordon 258 (-82)
Weeks at No. 1: Busch, Gordon tied at 1.
New arrivals in the Top 10: Edwards, Biffle, Sadler.
Dropped out of the Top 10: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Scott Riggs, Kevin Lepage.
Closing in on the Top 10: No. 11 Dale Jarrett (248, -10 out of 10th); No. 12 Ryan Newman (246, -12); No. 13. Kevin Harvick (239, -19); No. 14. Earnhardt (237, -21); No. 15. Mike Bliss (236, -22).