Top 10 at a Glance - A weekly look at NASCAR Winston Cup's Top 10 drivers DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 21, 2003) -- The following is a glance at the NASCAR Top 10 in the championship heading into Sunday's Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono...
Top 10 at a Glance - A weekly look at NASCAR Winston Cup's Top 10 drivers
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 21, 2003) -- The following is a glance at the NASCAR Top 10 in the championship heading into Sunday's Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway, Race 20 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.
Points: 2848. Previous ranking: 1. Kenseth finished third in Sunday's New England 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway to extend his championship points lead to the largest advantage he has enjoyed this season. Kenseth, ranked No. 1 for the 16th consecutive race week, holds a 234-point lead over No. 2 Jeff Gordon, easily topping his previous best lead of 185 points over then-No. 2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. following Michigan. The effort was his second top 10 in the last three races and eighth in the last 10. Kenseth has struggled in qualifying at Pocono -- with just one start better than 22nd in seven career appearances -- but he has found success at the 2.5-mile track. He has four top-10 finishes in his last six starts, including the last two. Kenseth was eighth in last year's Pennsylvania 500 and then finished a personal-best third in this season's June event. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:
No. 2 -- Jeff Gordon
(No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet), Hendrick Motorsports.
Points: 2614. Previous ranking: 2. Gordon finished 24th at New Hampshire -- his worst effort since finishing 33rd at Darlington in the fifth race of the season -- and it was costly in his pursuit of No. 1 Matt Kenseth. Gordon, who came in trailing by 165 points, exited New Hampshire behind by 234 -- a 69-point swing -- but did retain the No. 2 ranking for the second consecutive race week. He will look to rebound at Pocono, where he is a three-time winner and owns 16 top-10 finishes in 21 career starts. He has been unable to crack the top 10 in his last two starts -- 12th in last year's Pennsylvania 500 and 13th in June -- after previously finishing among the top 10 in 13 of his previous 14 starts at Pocono. He also has led laps in 15 of his 21 starts, including 100 or more on three occasions. He has earned two Bud Poles and has nine top-five starts. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:
No. 3 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
(No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet), Dale Earnhardt Inc.
Points: 2575. Previous ranking: 3. Earnhardt Jr. finished sixth at New Hampshire for his fourth top-10 finish in his last six starts. The performance also was his best finish since taking fourth at Pocono five races ago. He maintained the No. 3 ranking -- marking his 13th consecutive race week among the top three -- and was able to close to 39 points of No. 2 Jeff Gordon. He is 273 points behind No. 1 Matt Kenseth. Earnhardt Jr. has a pair of top-five finishes in his last four appearances at Pocono and has led 11 or more laps in three of his last five starts at the 2.5-mile track. He finished second in the Pennsylvania 500 in 2001 and led a personal-best 31 laps. His other top-five effort came in June when he led 22 laps and finished fourth. On the qualifying side, he has started among the top 15 in all seven starts, including a best of fifth in June. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:
No. 4 -- Bobby Labonte
(No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet), Joe Gibbs Racing.
Points: 2472. Previous ranking: 4. Labonte finished 14th at New Hampshire, just his third finish outside the top 10 in his last 11 starts but second in a row. Labonte, who finished 36th the previous week at Chicago, remains at No. 4 for the seventh straight race week. He trails No. 3 Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 103 points and No. 1 Matt Kenseth by 376. Pocono has been a track of two tales for Labonte. After being unable to muster a top-10 finish in his first 11 starts at Pocono, Labonte rebounded with three wins and six top-10 finishes overall in his last 10 starts. He earned two of the wins in 1999 when he swept Pocono and added his third in this event in 2001. However, he has not posted a top-10 finish in the three starts since that win. He finished 11th in this race last season and was 17th in June. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:
No. 5 -- Jimmie Johnson
(No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet), Hendrick Motorsports.
Points: 2429. Previous ranking: 6. Johnson became the third multiple winner of the season -- joining three-time winners Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman (3) -- with a victory at New Hampshire. Johnson, who won at Charlotte in May, moved back into the top five in the championship with the win, unseating Michael Waltrip for the No. 5 ranking. It marks his first time in the top five since being ranked No. 5 following his victory at Charlotte. He and Waltrip are the only drivers to be ranked in the NASCAR Top 10 all season long. Overall, he has been in the NASCAR Top 10 for 52 consecutive weeks, a run that dates to the first Atlanta race of last season and is the longest current streak in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. He is 43 points behind No. 4 Bobby Labonte and 419 behind No. 1 Matt Kenseth. Johnson started among the top seven and finished inside the top 15 in all three of his career starts at Pocono. In 2002, he finished a personal best of third in his first appearance at Pocono and was 15th in this event. In his most recent appearance, he was 12th in the June race after capturing the Bud Pole. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:
No. 6 -- Michael Waltrip
(No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet), Dale Earnhardt, Inc.
Points: 2373. Previous ranking: 5. Waltrip finished 28th at New Hampshire to slip one position to No. 6 in the NASCAR Top 10. Waltrip, who had finished among the top 15 in his previous four races including a pair of top fives, held the No. 5 ranking for the previous three weeks. He is 56 points behind No. 5 Jimmie Johnson and 475 behind No. 1 Matt Kenseth. Waltrip has not had much success at Pocono, registering just four top-10 finishes in 35 career starts. His most recent top-10 effort came in the June race of 2002 when he finished eighth. He was 18th in last year's Pennsylvania 500 and matched that finish in June of this year. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: --
No. 7 -- Kevin Harvick
(No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet), Richard Childress Racing.
Points: 2316. Previous ranking: 7. Harvick matched his season-best performance established at Talladega when he finished runner-up to Jimmie Johnson at New Hampshire. It was his fourth top-five effort of the season and third top-10 finish in the last four races. He remains at No. 7 for the second straight race week and closed to 57 points of No. 6 Michael Waltrip. Harvick has one top-10 performance in five career starts at Pocono, but it did come in last year's Pennsylvania 500 (6th). In his most recent start at Pocono in June, he finished 25th. He has struggled on the qualifying side, starting better than 19th just once (6th, July of 2001). NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: --
No. 8 -- Kurt Busch
(No. 97 Rubbermaid Ford), Roush Racing.
Points: 2243. Previous ranking: 9. Busch broke out of a three-race slump in which he had finished 28th or worse with an 11th-place effort at New Hampshire. It was his second-best finish in his last eight starts, second only to his win at Michigan. The performance allowed him to move up one position in the NASCAR Top 10 to No. 8, 73 points behind No. 7 Kevin Harvick. Busch has finished 36th or worse in three of his last four starts at Pocono, including earlier this season when he was 36th in the June race. The bright spot came in last year's Pennsylvania 500, when he finished runner-up to Bill Elliott and led his first laps (3) at Pocono. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: --
No. 9 -- Tony Stewart
(No. 20 The Home Depot Chevrolet), Joe Gibbs Racing.
Points: 2226. Previous ranking: 8. Stewart's recent roll slowed with a 22nd-place finish at New Hampshire that dropped him one position to No. 9 in the NASCAR Top 10. Stewart, who had four top-10 finishes in his previous six races, remains in the NASCAR Top 10 for the second straight week and trails No. 8 Kurt Busch by 73 points. Stewart could easily bounce back at Pocono, where he has eight top-seven finishes in nine career starts, including the last five in a row. Stewart, seventh in last season's Pennsylvania 500, led 37 laps en route to his first victory at the 2.5-mile oval in June. He also has been a strong qualifier, with six top-10 starts in his last seven appearances and never starting outside the top 12. Ironically, his only Bud Pole at Pocono in this event in 2000 resulted in his only finish outside the top seven (26th). NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:
No. 10 -- Jeff Burton
(No. 99 CITGO Ford), Roush Racing.
Points: 2200. Previous ranking: 13. Burton is the only new arrival in the NASCAR Top 10 this week following a ninth-place finish at New Hampshire. He improved three positions to No. 10, replacing Sterling Marlin in the NASCAR Top 10. The performance was his third consecutive top-10 finish and the run has moved him from 16th in the NASCAR Winston Cup championship race to No. 10. This marks his first time in the NASCAR Top 10 since a three-race run early in the season that began with a No. 7 ranking at Rockingham and concluded with a No. 9 ranking following Atlanta. Sandwiched in between was his season-high ranking of No. 4 following Las Vegas. Burton has recorded 10 top-10 finishes in 19 career starts at Pocono, including a pair of runner-up finishes. However, he has just one top 10 in his last four starts, a sixth in the June race of 2002. He finished 16th in last season's Pennsylvania 500 and 14th earlier this season. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: " (neutral)