Top-10 Rundown 2006-02-20

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 - February 20, 2006 A weekly look at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Top 10 drivers DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 20, 2006) -- The following is a rundown of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 heading into Sunday's Auto Club...

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 - February 20, 2006

A weekly look at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Top 10 drivers

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 20, 2006) -- 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 schedule (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX).

The first 26 races of the season will determine who will be part of the third annual "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup" in the final 10 races. Drivers who are in the top 10 or within 400 points of the points leader after those 26 races will vie for the 2006 series title in the "Chase."

No. 1 -- Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet), Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 185. Johnson's 19th career victory put him into familiar territory -- at the top of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup point standings. Johnson has finished in the top five of the final point standings in each of the past four seasons. A native of Southern California, Johnson carries tremendous momentum to California Speedway, where he won in 2002 and finished second in the 2005 Auto Club 500.

No. 2 -- Casey Mears (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge). Team: Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Points: 170. Mears kicked off the season at Daytona with his best career finish. He's never finished higher than eighth in five previous NASCAR NEXTEL Cup events at California, but after a stellar Speedweeks at Daytona (he also drove for the winning Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series team in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona); Mears enters this weekend's race with plenty of confidence.

No. 3 -- Ryan Newman (No. 12 Alltel Dodge). Team: Penske Racing South. Points: 170. Newman and his new Penske teammate, Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) worked well together in the draft at Daytona, helping Newman record his best Daytona finish. Watch for Newman's trademark Bud Pole qualifying speed to be a factor at California -- it's one of 15 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup tracks where Newman has won the pole position.

No. 4 -- Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&M's Ford). Team: Robert Yates Racing. Points: 165. Sadler succeeding in delivering a solid finish for the new Ford Fusion stock car: he was the best of three Ford drivers in the top 10. It was his third top-five finish at Daytona and first since 2002. At California, Sadler has made nine starts and won there in September 2004.

No. 5 -- Tony Stewart (No. 20 The Home Depot Chevrolet). Team: Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 160. Stewart, the reigning NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion, was a favorite for the Daytona 500 but will have to wait another year to see if he can finally win the "Great American Race." Although his Chevrolet was involved in a few incidents, it was fast: he closed from 20th to fifth position over the last 20 laps at Daytona. Stewart has posted good results at California, including fourth-place finishes in 1999 and 2001.

No. 6 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet). Team: Dale Earnhardt Inc. Points: 152. Earnhardt, not surprisingly, was in contention for victory throughout Sunday's Daytona 500. He spent 201 of 203 laps among the top 15 and led 32 laps -- the most of any driver -- before finishing eighth. It's his first appearance in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 since May 2005. Earnhardt has recorded two top-10 finishes in eight races at California.

No. 7 -- Brian Vickers (No. 25 GMAC Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 151. Like Johnson, Mears and Newman, Vickers also recorded his best Daytona finish on Sunday. In four previous races at California, Vickers has led a total of 46 laps, won a Bud Pole and posted a third-place finish there in the series' last visit in September.

No. 8 -- Clint Bowyer (No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet). Team: Richard Childress Racing. Points: 150. Bowyer was the top-finishing Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate at Daytona, in sixth place, and helped RCR enjoy a superb Speedweeks. Bowyer will be attempting his first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series start at California, where he has two top-five finishes and a pole in two NASCAR Busch Series starts.

No. 9 -- Ken Schrader (No. 21 Little Debbie Ford). Team: Wood Brothers Racing. Points: 138. Schrader began his 23rd NASCAR NEXTEL Cup season with his best Daytona 500 finish since 2000, when he also finished ninth while driving for MB2 Motorsports. Schrader was the best "Closer" in Sunday's race as he advanced from 33rd to ninth in the final 20 laps. This is his highest points ranking and first time among the Top 10 since he was ranked 10th after Darlington in March 2001. Schrader's best finish at California is 14th, which he posted in 1999 and in the 2005 Auto Club 500.

No. 10 -- Dale Jarrett (No. 88 UPS Ford). Team: Robert Yates Racing. Points: 134. Jarrett matched his 2003-04 Daytona 500 performances by finishing 10th, proving he is still one of the most competitive cars in the field after 22 years in the series. Jarrett has scored five top-10 finishes in 11 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup races at California.

Fast Facts

Top 10 following Daytona (Race 1 of 36):
1. Jimmie Johnson 185 pts
2. Casey Mears 170 (-15)
3. Ryan Newman 170 (-15)
4. Elliott Sadler 165 (-20)
5. Tony Stewart 160 (-25)
6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 152 (-33)
7. Brian Vickers 151 (-34)
8. Clint Bowyer (r) 140 (-35)
9. Ken Schrader 138 (-47)
10. Dale Jarrett 134 (-51)
(r) Denotes Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate.

Weeks at No. 1: Johnson (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:
11. Mark Martin 132 pts.
12. Kasey Kahne 130
13. Kevin Harvick 126
14. Robby Gordon 124
15. Matt Kenseth 123


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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Ken Schrader , Kevin Harvick , Robby Gordon , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Casey Mears , Jimmie Johnson , Kasey Kahne , Brian Vickers , Chip Ganassi , Clint Bowyer , Robert Yates , Elliott Sadler , Felix Sabates , Mark Martin
Teams Team Penske , Hendrick Motorsports , Yates Racing