Top 10 at a Glance... A weekly look at NASCAR Winston Cup's top 10 drivers DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 19, 2003) -- The following is a glance at the NASCAR Top 10 in the championship heading into Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway,...
Top 10 at a Glance... A weekly look at NASCAR Winston Cup's top 10 drivers
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 19, 2003) -- The following is a glance at the NASCAR Top 10 in the championship heading into Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Race 12 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: 1,619.
Previous ranking: 1. Kenseth, who has been at No. 1 for eight consecutive race weeks and in the NASCAR Top 10 for 10 of 11 weeks of the season, enters the Coca-Cola 600 protecting a 20-point lead over No. 2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Kenseth's first career NASCAR Winston Cup victory came in this event May 28 of 2000 and he has three top-10 finishes at Lowe's Motor Speedway in seven career starts. Much of that success has come in the May event, with his win in 2000 and a runner-up finish last season. He finished 34th in the fall race due to engine problems. He has led at least one lap in his last six starts there, including 21 in last season's Coca-Cola 600. Through 11 races last season, Kenseth also was in the thick of the points race as he was second to Sterling Marlin. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: --
No. 2 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
(No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet), Dale Earnhardt Inc. Points: 1,599.
Previous ranking: 2. Earnhardt Jr., who has been in the NASCAR Top 10 for eight consecutive race weeks, will be chasing his sixth consecutive top-six finish of the season as he heads to the Coca-Cola 600. He has enjoyed two NASCAR Winston Cup career milestones at Lowe's Motor Speedway -- first start (May 30, 1999) and first pole (May 24, 2000) -- but has had mixed results overall. In seven career starts, he has posted three top-10 finishes, and only one has come in the Coca-Cola 600 (4th in 2000). He finished 25th in the 600 in 2001 and 35th last season, but was fourth in the fall 2001 race and ninth in the fall 2002 race. He is 20 points behind No. 1 Kenseth. Last season at this stage, he was 12th in the points, 424 points away from No. 1. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: (neutral)
No. 3 -- Kurt Busch
(No. 97 Rubbermaid Ford), Roush Racing. Points: 1,452.
Previous ranking 4. Busch, who has been ranked among the top five in the points for six consecutive race weeks, has struggled at Lowe's Motor Speedway, but has made some progress along the way. On the qualifying side, he needed a provisional to make the field in his first three appearances, beginning in the fall of 2000, and started 24th in last season's Coca-Cola 600. He improved to 12th in the fall race. In terms of race results, he managed two finishes among the top 13 from those three provisional starting positions, including a best of 12th in the 2001 Coca-Cola 600. Last season, he made the field on his own in both events -- including a personal-best of 11th in the fall race -- and matched his personal-best finish of 12th in the fall. In 2002, he also led laps for the first time at Lowe's, beginning with his first two in the 600 and 46 in the fall. He also looked strong over the weekend in The Winston all-star event, winning the second segment and finishing second in the final. He trails No. 1 Kenseth by 167 points and No. 2 Earnhardt Jr. by 147. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: --
No. 4 -- Jeff Gordon
(No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet), Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 1,441.
Previous ranking: 3. Gordon, who trails No. 3 Busch by 11 points, is hopeful his success will continue at Lowe's Motor Speedway and allow him to regain the No. 3 ranking he lost following Richmond. He is tied with Mark Martin for most wins among active drivers at Lowe's Motor Speedway with four, and also has registered 11 top-five efforts in 20 career starts. Three of those wins have come in the Coca-Cola 600, including his first career NASCAR Winston Cup victory on May 29, 1994. The other 600 triumphs came in 1997 and '98. He has been equally strong on the qualifying side, leading active drivers with seven career poles at the 1.5-mile speedway. That total includes five consecutive Coca-Cola 600 poles from 1994-98 as well as his first career NASCAR Winston Cup pole on Oct. 6, 1993. Last season, Gordon finished fifth in this event and fourth in the fall race. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: --
No. 5 -- Bobby Labonte
(No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet), Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 1,376.
Previous ranking: 8. Labonte heads to the Coca-Cola 600 well ahead of his championship pace of last season when he was ranked 22nd in the points at this stage of the season. His current ranking -- which matches his season best he earned following his win at Atlanta -- has been fueled by three consecutive runner-up performances. He heads to a speedway in which he has enjoyed success --13 top-10 finishes in 20 career starts -- and a career milestone, with his first NASCAR Winston Cup win coming in this race on May 28, 1995. He also has six top-five finishes in his last eight starts at Lowe's, including a win in the fall race of 2000, and has led laps in 15 of his last 16 starts there. Last season, he finished 14th in the Coca-Cola 600 -- his first finish outside the top 10 since a 39th in the fall of 1998 -- but rebounded with a runner-up performance in the fall. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: --
No. 6 -- Jimmie Johnson
(No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet), Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 1,372.
Previous ranking: 5. Johnson has a limited history at Lowe's Motor Speedway, but he is quickly making it into one of his more coveted tracks to visit. He made his first career NASCAR Winston Cup start at the 1.5-mile speedway on Oct. 7, 2001 and although he did not find success that day (he finished 39th) he has enjoyed it ever since. Last season, Johnson won the pole for the Coca-Cola 600 and led 263 laps en route to a seventh-place finish. In the fall, he started third, led 66 laps and finished sixth. This past weekend, he enhanced his resume at Lowe's Motor Speedway by capturing the final segment of The Winston all-star event and a $1 million payday. Johnson had a run of four consecutive race weeks in the top five end at Richmond, but finds himself just four points away from Labonte and that No. 5 ranking. Despite being bumped from the top five, he and Michael Waltrip are the only drivers to be ranked in the NASCAR Top 10 all season long. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: --
No. 7 -- Michael Waltrip
(No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet), Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Points: 1,361.
Previous ranking: 6. Waltrip, who joins Johnson as the only drivers to be ranked in the NASCAR Top 10 for the entire season at this point, enjoyed a career milestone in the Coca-Cola 600, but has not had much else to celebrate there during his career until last season. He made his first career NASCAR Winston Cup start at Lowe's Motor Speedway on May 26, 1985, finishing 28th. He has just nine top-10 finishes in 36 career starts, including one in his last 12, but made some strides last year. He finished eighth in the Coca-Cola 600 -- his best finish at Lowe's since an eighth in the 600 in 1996 -- and followed with an 11th-place effort in the fall. His qualifying effort of 11th in the 600 last season was his best starting position since starting 11th in the fall of 1996. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: --
No. 8 -- Kevin Harvick
(No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet), Richard Childress Racing. Points: 1,328.
Previous ranking: 9. Harvick, who was 31st in the points a year ago at this stage of the season, has been ranked in the NASCAR Top 10 for five consecutive race weeks heading into a track in which he impressed at in 2001 and struggled at in 2002. Being only 44 points away from the No. 6 ranking of Johnson, he will look to return to his '01 form when he finished second in the Coca-Cola 600 and eighth in the fall. Last year, however, he did not qualify better than 20th or finish better than 22nd in either event. In the 600, he started 26th and finished 34th. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: (neutral)
No. 9 -- Rusty Wallace
(No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), Penske Racing South. Points: 1,274.
Previous ranking: 12. Wallace made his first appearance in the NASCAR Top 10 this season following Richmond and heads to a track that may help him secure his position among the group. He has posted five top-10 finishes in his last seven starts at Lowe's Motor Speedway, including the last three in a row. He finished seventh in the fall of 2001, 10th in last season's Coca-Cola 600 and fifth in the fall race. He also owns two victories at Lowe's, the first coming in the fall of 1988 and the second in the 1990 Coca-Cola 600. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: --
No. 10 -- Sterling Marlin
(No. 40 Coors Light Dodge), Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Points: 1,259.
Previous ranking: 13. Marlin made his first appearance in the NASCAR Top 10 this season following Richmond and it marks his first time among the group since a No. 10 ranking following Talladega last season. With No. 11 Ricky Craven five points behind him and No. 12 Mark Martin just 17, Marlin will have to reverse his recent fortunes at Lowe's Motor Speedway to remain in the NASCAR Top 10. He has just one top-10 finish in his last 11 starts at the track. However, the one was a victory in the Coca-Cola 600 in 2001. Last season he finish 11th in the 600 and missed the fall event due to his season-ending injury that occurred in late September. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: --
NASCAR Top 10 this week:
1. M. Kenseth 1619 points
2. D. Earnhardt Jr. 1599 (-20)
3. K. Busch 1452 (-167)
4. J. Gordon 1441 (-178)
5. B. Labonte 1376 (-243)
6. J. Johnson 1372 (-247)
7. M. Waltrip 1361 (-258)
8. K. Harvick 1328 (-291)
9. R. Wallace 1274 (-345)
10. S. Marlin 1259 (-360)
Weeks at No. 1: Kenseth, 8; Waltrip, 2; Busch, 1.
New arrivals in the NASCAR Top 10 this week: None.
Most weeks in the NASCAR Top 10: 11, Waltrip, Johnson.
Largest gain among the NASCAR Top 10: None.
Dropped out of the NASCAR Top 10 this week: None.
Charting the Preseason No. 1: Jeff Gordon is at No. 4 this week.