Top 10 at a Glance: A weekly look at NASCAR Winston Cup's Top 10 drivers DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 22, 2003) -- The following is a glance at the NASCAR Top 10 in the championship heading into Sunday's EA Sports 500 at Talladega ...
Top 10 at a Glance: A weekly look at NASCAR Winston Cup's Top 10 drivers
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 22, 2003) -- The following is a glance at the NASCAR Top 10 in the championship heading into Sunday's EA Sports 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, Race 29 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: 4158. Previous ranking: 1. Kenseth finished ninth at Sunday's MBNA America 400 at Dover International Speedway for his series-leading 22nd top-10 effort in 28 starts this season. That total is six better than No. 4 Dale Earnhardt Jr. and No. 5 Ryan Newman, who are tied for second in that category. The Dover finish was his third top 10 in a row and seventh in the last eight races. Kenseth remains at No. 1 for the 25th consecutive race week, dating to Atlanta in March, and holds a 436-point margin over No. 2 Kevin Harvick. He finished ninth at Talladega in the spring for his third top 10 in seven career starts, including a best of fourth in the 2001 EA Sports 500. He has led at Talladega in each of his seven career starts. His starting position of eighth in last year's EA Sports 500 -- which was gained when qualifying was cancelled and based off owner points -- marked the first time he started better than 24th at Talladega. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: " (neutral).
No. 2 -- Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet), Richard Childress Racing. Points: 3722. Previous ranking: 3. Harvick finished fourth at Dover to unseat Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the No. 2 ranking. He spent the past four race weeks at No. 3 before securing No. 2 this week, marking the highest championship ranking of his three-year career. The fourth-place effort was his sixth top-five finish in the last eight races and 10th on the season. He also led at Dover, marking the sixth race in row he has led a lap and earned bonus points. He gained 27 points on No. 1 Matt Kenseth and trails by 436. Harvick finished runner-up to Earnhardt Jr. in the spring race at Talladega for his first top-10 finish in five career starts. It ended a three-race streak at Talladega of finishing 27th or worse. He also qualified second, a personal best at the track for him. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: " (neutral).
No. 3 -- Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet), Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 3685. Previous ranking: 4. Johnson finished eighth at Dover for his fifth top-10 finish in the last seven races. The performance improved his ranking one position to No. 3, which matches his season-high ranking that was established in the first three races of the season. With Michael Waltrip falling out of the NASCAR Top 10 this week, Johnson is the only remaining driver that has been ranked all season long among the top 10 in the championship. Overall, he has been ranked in the top 10 for 61 consecutive weeks, dating to the March race at Atlanta last season. Johnson led a race-high 65 laps and finished 15th at Talladega in the spring after a 2002 rookie season that brought a Bud Pole and top-10 finish at the 2.66-mile track. He won the pole in the spring event and went on to a seventh-place finish. He started first in the fall -- qualifying was cancelled and based off owner points -- but suffered a DNF (Did Not Finish) and was 37th. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: " (neutral).
No. 4 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet), Dale Earnhardt Inc. Points: 3668. Previous ranking: 2. Earnhardt finished 37th at Dover due to an accident -- his worst finish in the last 10 races -- and it cost him two positions in the rankings, dropping him to No. 4. It ends an eight-race run at No. 2 and his stranglehold of 21 weeks in a row among the top three in the NASCAR Winston Cup championship. The last time he was ranked outside the top three was when he was at No. 5 following Bristol in March, a span of nearly six months. However, he trails No. 3 Jimmie Johnson by just 17 points and No. 2 Kevin Harvick by 54. Earnhardt Jr. has been a powerhouse in restrictor-plate races, especially at Talladega. He won the Aaron's 499 in the spring for his fourth consecutive win at the 2.66-mile superspeedway. Prior to his dominance, Buddy Baker (spring of 1975 through spring of '76) had been the only driver to win more than two consecutive races at Talladega. He also enters the weekend with a streak of five top-10 finishes in a row at Talladega, dating to an eighth-place effort in the spring of 2001 and followed by the four wins. Earnhardt Jr. led 34 laps in the spring race, marking the sixth consecutive race at Talladega that he has led 28 or more laps. He also has started 15th or better in six of his seven career starts. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:
No. 5 -- Ryan Newman (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge), Penske Racing South. Points: 3578. Previous ranking: 5. Newman continued his torrid second-half run with a victory in Sunday's MBNA America 400 at Dover International Speedway. The win, his series-leading seventh of the season and eighth of his career, gave him a season sweep at Dover. He becomes the third driver to sweep this season, joining No. 8 Kurt Busch (Bristol) and No. 3 Jimmie Johnson (New Hampshire). How strong has Newman been in the second half? In the last 17 races, he has recorded 13 top-10 finishes, including 10 of those among the top five (of which six were wins). The run moved him from 27th in the championship to his current ranking of No. 5, which he holds for the second race week in a row. Newman has not enjoyed much luck at Talladega, with two DNFs (Did Not Finish) in three career starts. In his most recent visit this spring, he completed just three laps due to an accident and finished 39th. Last season in his rookie campaign, he finished 43rd in the spring and rebounded with a seventh in the EA Sports 500. He has been strong on the qualifying side, starting among the top 10 in each of his appearances. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: --
No. 6 -- Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet), Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 3542. Previous ranking: 6. Gordon showed another sign of breaking out of his slump with a fifth-place finish at Dover. It was his second top-10 finish in the last three races after managing just one in the previous seven. He also has led in four of his last five races. He remains at No. 6 for the second consecutive race week and trails No. 5 Ryan Newman by 36 points. Gordon finished eighth at Talladega in April for his fifth top-10 finish in his last seven starts at the 2.66-mile superspeedway. In 21 career starts, he has 11 top-10 finishes, including wins in April of 2000 and July of 1996. He has started among the top 10 in his last three visits, including fourth in the spring. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:
No. 7 -- Bobby Labonte (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet), Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 3393. Previous ranking: 8. Labonte was able to move past Kurt Busch for the No. 7 ranking despite a 31st-place finish at Dover. The two were tied in points coming into Dover, but Labonte was able to slip ahead thanks to a 37th-place finish by Busch. Labonte did lose ground on No. 6 Jeff Gordon, who has opened up a 149-point lead between the two. Labonte finished 32nd at Talladega in the spring race, his fourth consecutive effort outside the top 20 at the 2.66-mile oval. In 21 career starts, he has nine top-10 finishes, including six of those among the top five. He is a previous winner at Talladega, winning from the pole in April of 1998. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: --
No. 8 -- Kurt Busch (No. 97 Rubbermaid Ford), Roush Racing. Points: 3372. Previous ranking: 7. Busch finished 38th at Dover due to engine failure -- his worst finish in his last 10 starts -- and dropped one position to No. 8. He traded rankings with No. 7 Bobby Labonte, who holds a 21-point margin over Busch. Busch has managed just one top-10 finish in his last six starts -- a win at Bristol -- and will look to turn things around at Talladega. Busch has finished fourth or better in three of his five career starts at Talladega. His personal best is third, which he established in April of 2001 and matched in the same race a year later. In his most recent appearance this spring, he finished 19th. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:
@!No. 9 -- Terry Labonte (No. 5 Kellogg's/got milk? Chevrolet), Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 3294. Previous ranking: 9. Labonte finished 20th at Dover -- his worst finish in his last nine starts -- but was able to maintain the No. 9 ranking for the third consecutive race week. Labonte, ranked 23rd at this stage of the season a year ago, trails No. 8 Kurt Busch by 78 points heading into Talladega. Labonte will make his 50th career start this weekend at Talladega and is coming off a fifth-place finish in the spring race. It was his 14th career top-five finish at Talladega, which includes wins in July of 1989 and October of 1997, in 49 career starts. He leads all active drivers in top-five (14) and top-10 finishes (23) at the 2.66-mile superspeedway. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:
No. 10 -- Tony Stewart (No. 20 The Home Depot Chevrolet), Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 3291. Previous ranking: 11. Stewart, the defending NASCAR Winston Cup champion, finished third at Dover to return to the NASCAR Top 10 after a two-week absence. Stewart, who has been in the NASCAR Top 10 for 13 weeks overall, improved one position and returns at No. 10, the same ranking he held following Darlington in late August during his last visit to the NASCAR Top 10. He is just three points behind Terry Labonte at No. 9. The performance at Dover was his seventh top-five finish of the season, but just the second in the last 10 races. Stewart has posted five top-10 finishes in nine career starts at Talladega, including three runner-up finishes. All three have come in his last five visits, including the most recent in this event last season. In his most recent appearance in April, he finished 25th. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:
NASCAR Top 10 this week:
1. Matt Kenseth 4158 points
2. Kevin Harvick 3722 (-436)
3. Jimmie Johnson 3685 (-473)
4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 3668 (-490)
5. Ryan Newman 3578 (-580)
6. Jeff Gordon 3542 (-616)
7. Bobby Labonte 3393 (-765)
8. Kurt Busch 3372 (-786)
9. Terry Labonte 3294 (-864)
10. Tony Stewart 3291 (-867)
Weeks at No. 1: Kenseth, 25; Waltrip, 2; Busch, 1.
New arrivals in the NASCAR Top 10 this week: No. 10 Stewart.
Most weeks in the NASCAR Top 10: Johnson, 28; Waltrip, Kenseth, Busch, 27; Earnhardt Jr., Harvick, 25; J. Gordon 24.
Largest gain among the NASCAR Top 10: No. 2 Harvick, No. 3 Johnson, No. 7 B. Labonte, No. 10 Stewart, one position each.
Dropped out of the NASCAR Top 10 this week: No. 10 Michael Waltrip, who had been one of only two drivers to be ranked in the NASCAR Top 10 all season long.