Top ten after Darlington

Top 10 at a Glance... A weekly look at NASCAR Winston Cup's DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 17, 2003) -- The following is a glance at the NASCAR Top 10 in the championship heading into Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, Race 6 of 36 ...

Top 10 at a Glance...
A weekly look at NASCAR Winston Cup's

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 17, 2003) -- The following is a glance at the NASCAR Top 10 in the championship heading into Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, Race 6 of 36 on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series schedule. Each driver also has an outlook for projected movement in the NASCAR Top 10 based on past performance at this weekend's track.

No. 1 -- Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Ford), Roush Racing. Last week's ranking: 1. Kenseth finished eighth in the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at Darlington Raceway to maintain the No. 1 ranking for the second consecutive week. Last week's reign at No. 1 marked the first time in his career he had led the NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship and this week on top allows him to join Michael Waltrip as the only driver this season to lead the championship for more than one week. Kenseth is in the NASCAR Top 10 for the fourth consecutive week after starting the season ranked 19th in the points. His performance at Darlington was his fourth top-10 effort of the season, tying him with No. 2-ranked Tony Stewart for the series lead. At this stage of the season last year, Kenseth was third in the points. Kenseth has two top-10 finishes in six career starts at Bristol Motor Speedway, both of which came last year when he finished sixth in the Food City 500 and fifth in the August race.

No. 2 -- Tony Stewart (No. 20 The Home Depot Chevrolet), Joe Gibbs Racing. Last week's ranking: 2. Stewart finished 10th at Darlington for his fourth top-10 finish of the season, tying him for the series lead with Kenseth. He maintained the No. 2 ranking for the second consecutive week and is one of three drivers to be ranked in the NASCAR Top 10 all season long. Through five races last season, Stewart, the reigning NASCAR Winston Cup champion, was ranked 12th in the title race. In eight career starts at Bristol, he has three top-five finishes, including a win in August of 2001. Last season, Stewart finished 15th in the Food City 500 and 24th in the second event. His success at Bristol has traditionally come in the August race, having never finished better than 15th in four starts in the spring race. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: " (Neutral)

No. 3 -- Michael Waltrip (No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet), Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Last week's ranking: 3. Waltrip finished fifth at Darlington for his third top-five effort of the season, tying him for the series lead with Kenseth and Kurt Busch. He maintained the No. 3 ranking for the second consecutive week and is one of three drivers to be ranked in the NASCAR Top 10 all five weeks of the season. Waltrip is dramatically ahead of his pace of a year ago, when he ranked 24th after five starts. He has posted seven top-10 finishes in 34 starts at Bristol, but has not enjoyed one since this race in 1998 (9 starts). Last season, he finished 30th in the Food City 500 and 22nd in the August race.

No. 4 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet), Dale Earnhardt Inc. Last week's ranking: 10. Earnhardt Jr. finished sixth at Darlington to improve six positions to No. 4, his highest ranking of the season. He has made spectacular gains in the last three weeks, using three top-six finishes to move from 38th to his current position in the NASCAR Winston Cup points. He is ahead of his pace of a year ago when he ranked No. 10 after five races. Earnhardt Jr. had just one finish better than 21st in his first four starts at Bristol, but found success last season. In 2002, he finished fourth in the Food City 500 and followed with a third-place performance in the August race.

No. 5 -- Ricky Craven (No. 32 Tide Pontiac), PPI Motorsports. Last week's ranking: 16. Craven won the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at Darlington for his second career victory and second appearance this season in the NASCAR Top 10. He was ranked eighth after Rockingham but dropped out the following week at Las Vegas. The Darlington victory allowed him to storm from No. 16 to No. 5, the biggest jump (11 positions) of the week in the NASCAR Top 10. It marks just the second time in his 221-race career that he has been ranked among the top five in the NASCAR Winston Cup points at any stage of a season. Craven has made 11 career starts at Bristol and has registered one top-10 finish (9th, spring 1996). Last season, he finished 17th in the Food City 500 and 33rd in the August event.

No. 6 -- Kurt Busch (No. 97 Rubbermaid Ford), Roush Racing. Last week's ranking 14. Busch finished second to Ricky Craven at Darlington to allow him to return to the NASCAR Top 10 after a one-week absence. Busch, one of three drivers this season to be ranked No. 1, had spent the first three weeks in the NASCAR Top 10 before falling to 14th last week. The second-place finish at Darlington gave him his fourth week in the NASCAR Top 10 and also gave him a share of the series lead for top-five finishes (3) with Kenseth and Waltrip. Busch has four career starts at Bristol and had a pair of strong performances last season. He captured his first career NASCAR Winston Cup victory in the Food City 500 and followed up with a sixth-place finish in the August race.

No. 7 -- Dave Blaney (No. 77 Jasper Engines & Transmissions Ford), Jasper Motorsports. Last week's ranking: 15. Blaney finished a career-best third at Darlington to vault him into the NASCAR Top 10 for the first time in his career. His performance at Darlington moved him up eight positions to No. 7 this week. Blaney, who was ranked 19th after five races last year, has posted three top-10 finishes this season to earn the best ranking of his career. He has made six starts at Bristol and is still chasing his first finish among the top 15. Last season, he finished a personal-best 17th in this race and 33rd in August.

No. 8 -- Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet), Hendrick Motorsports. Last week's ranking: 4. Johnson finished 27th at Darlington, dropping him from No. 4 to No. 8. He is one of three drivers to hold a position in the NASCAR Top 10 all five weeks, but slipped for the second consecutive week. Johnson was third for the first three weeks, dropped to fourth last week and fell four more positions this week. Although he remained in the NASCAR Top 10 for the 38th consecutive week, his drop ended a 29-race streak among the top five, dating to last May at Charlotte. Johnson made his two career starts at Bristol last season with mixed results. He finished seventh in the Food City 500 and 34th in August.

No. 9 -- Joe Nemechek (No. 25 UAW-Delphi Chevrolet), Hendrick Motorsports. Last week's ranking: 11. Nemechek finished 13th at Darlington to improve two positions from a week ago and settle in at No. 9 for his first appearance in the NASCAR Top 10 this season. The No. 9 ranking is the highest points position for Nemechek in his 291-race career. Last season at this point of the season, he was ranked 30th in the championship. Nemechek has 16 career starts at Bristol and is still seeking his first top-15 finish at the track. He struggled last season at Bristol, finishing last in the Food City 500 and 27th in August.

No. 10 -- Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&M's Ford), Yates Racing. Last week's ranking: 19. Sadler finished seventh at Darlington for his third top-10 finish of the season and first appearance in the NASCAR Top 10. In the last two races, Sadler has climbed from 27th to his current position of No. 10. His jump of nine positions this week was second only to Craven, who improved 11 positions. Sadler struggled mightily at Bristol last season as he was unable to finish either race and settled for 41st in the Food City 500 and 42nd in August. However, he finished among the top 11 in his three previous starts to 2002, including his first career NASCAR Winston Cup victory in this event in 2001.

FAST FACTS

NASCAR Top 10 this week:
1. M. Kenseth - 760 points
2. T. Stewart - 703 (-57)
3. M. Waltrip - 698 (-62)
4. D. Earnhardt Jr. - 634 (-126)
5. R. Craven - 617 (-143)
6. K. Busch - 617 (-143)
7. D. Blaney - 603 (-157)
8. J. Johnson - 601 (-159)
9. J. Nemechek - 601 (-159)
10. E. Sadler - 575 (-185)

Weeks at No. 1: Waltrip, Kenseth, 2; Busch, 1.

New arrivals in the NASCAR Top 10 this week: No. 5 Craven; No. 6 Busch; No. 7 Blaney; No. 9 Nemechek; No. 10 Sadler.

Most weeks in the NASCAR Top 10: 5, Waltrip, Johnson, Stewart.

Largest gain among the NASCAR Top 10: No. 5 Craven, 11 positions from No. 16.

Dropped out of the NASCAR Top 10 this week: No. 5 Bobby Labonte; No. 6 Johnny Benson; No. 7 Kevin Harvick; No. 8 Jeff Gordon; No. 9 Jeff Burton.

Charting the Preseason No. 1: Gordon falls from No. 8 to No. 15, 29 points out of the NASCAR Top 10.

-nascar-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Michael Waltrip , Kevin Harvick , Joe Nemechek , Kurt Busch , Johnny Benson , Jimmie Johnson , Ricky Craven , Elliott Sadler , Dave Blaney
Teams Hendrick Motorsports , Joe Gibbs Racing , Yates Racing