A weekly look at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 2, 2006) -- The following is a rundown of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 heading into Saturday's Crown Royal 400 at Richmond International Raceway, the 10th of 36...
A weekly look at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 2, 2006) -- The following is a rundown of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 heading into Saturday's Crown Royal 400 at Richmond International Raceway, the 10th of 36 races on the series' schedule (7 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 (48 Lowe's Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 1,394. Johnson returned to the top spot in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 with his third win of the season. In eight previous races at Richmond, Johnson has recorded just one top-five finish, in 2004. He finished 40th in last season's Crown Royal 400. Johnson is the only driver to be ranked in the Top 10 for the entire season.
No. 2 -- Matt Kenseth (17 DeWalt Power Tools Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 1,373. Despite a solid sixth-place finish at Talladega, Johnson's win resulted in a 30-point swing that dropped Kenseth from first place to 21 points out of the lead. Richmond could be reassuring to Kenseth, who won there in 2002 and has recorded two top-five finishes in his last four Richmond starts.
No. 3 -- Tony Stewart (20 Home Depot Chevrolet). Team: Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 1,316. Stewart made the biggest gain of any driver in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 this week, improving from fifth to third after a third-place finish at Talladega. At Richmond, NASCAR Loop Data statistics show that Stewart will be a force to be reckoned with. In last year's Crown Royal 400, Stewart finished second, after posting the second-best Average Running Position during the event (5.054). He was the third-fastest driver both early and late in a run, was the Fastest Driver on the Backstretch (avg. 132.037 mph) and the second-fastest on the frontstretch. Stewart's frontstretch speed at Richmond enabled him to make 15 of his 48 passes on that part of the track.
No. 4 -- Kasey Kahne (9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge). Team: Evernham Motorsports. Points: 1,213. Kahne, the defending Crown Royal 400 winner, has six top-five finishes in the first nine races and NASCAR Loop Data statistics show his strength at Richmond. Last season, Kahne was the second-fastest driver late in a run, enabling him to stay ahead of his competition throughout the race. Kahne was the Fastest in Turn 2 during last year's Crown Royal 400 and posted four of the race's fastest 10 laps.
No. 5 -- Mark Martin (6 AAA Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 1,210. Setbacks at Talladega set Martin back to fifth place in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series standings. The veteran driver will be making his 41st start at Richmond, a track that has produced mixed results for Martin. He has 22 top-10 finishes there since 1981, but only one victory in 1990. He had two top-10 finishes there in 2004, but was 13th and 15th in the two Richmond races last season.
No. 6 -- Jeff Gordon (24 DuPont Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 1,173. Two-time Richmond winner Jeff Gordon remains in sixth place after his 15th-place finish at Talladega and will look to improve upon 30th and 39th-place finishes at Richmond a year ago. Gordon does know how to get in front of the field at Richmond, having led 754 laps there in his career, third-best among active drivers.
No. 7 -- Kevin Harvick (29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet). Team: Richard Childress Racing. Points: 1,138. Harvick has climbed from 23rd to seventh in the standings in the last five races. Richmond may offer even more room for improvement. Harvick finished fifth at Richmond last May and 10th there last September. He posted the best Average Running Position in last year's Crown Royal 400, at 4.868. He also had the third-highest Driver Rating (117.0) and was the third-fastest driver on both the frontstretch and backstretch during the 2005 Crown Royal 400.
No. 8 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (8 Budweiser Chevrolet). Team: Dale Earnhardt Inc. Points: 1,120. The driver of the No. 8 dropped to No. 8 in the standings after engine troubles at Talladega. At Richmond, Earnhardt has two wins and eight top-10 finishes in 13 races. Earnhardt has been ranked in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Top 10 for all but one week this season.
No. 9 -- Kyle Busch (5 Kellogg's Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 1,077. Kurt Busch is the most recent race winner at Richmond, but his younger brother, Kyle, is stealing the spotlight. The third-year driver finished fourth in both Richmond races last season. In last year's Crown Royal 400, the younger Busch showed the poise of a veteran. He was the third-fastest driver "in traffic," with an average speed of 120.790 mph when there was another driver within one car length of his Chevrolet. The smooth driving helped Busch post the fourth-best Average Running Position at Richmond last May (5.878).
No. 10 -- Dale Jarrett (No. 88 UPS Ford). Team: Robert Yates Racing. Points: 1,066. Jarrett returned to the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 following his 12th-place finish at Talladega. He has not been ranked lower than 13th in 2006 and is the only driver to finish each of the season's first nine races in the top 20.
Top 10 following Talladega (Race 9 of 36):
1. Jimmie Johnson 1,394 pts
2. Matt Kenseth 1,373 (-21)
3. Tony Stewart 1,316 (-78)
4. Kasey Kahne 1,213 (-181)
5. Mark Martin 1,210 (-184)
6. Jeff Gordon 1,173 (-221)
7. Kevin Harvick 1,138 (-256)
8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 1,120 (-274)
9. Kyle Busch 1,077 (-317)
10. Dale Jarrett 1,066 (-328)
Weeks at No. 1: Johnson (1).
New arrivals this week in the Top 10: Dale Jarrett
Dropped out of the Top 10: Casey Mears
Closing in on the Top 10:
11. Casey Mears 1,056 pts.
12. Jeff Burton 1,039
13. Elliott Sadler 981
14. Brian Vickers 978
15. Carl Edwards 969
(r) Denotes Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate.