DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 11, 2003) -- The following is a glance at the NASCAR Top 10 in the championship heading into Sunday's GFS Marketplace 400 at Michigan International Speedway, Race 23 of 36 on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series schedule. Each...
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 11, 2003) -- The following is a glance at the NASCAR Top 10 in the championship heading into Sunday's GFS Marketplace 400 at Michigan International Speedway, Race 23 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: 3294. Previous ranking: 1. Kenseth finished eighth in Sunday's Sirius At The Glen event at Watkins Glen International for his series-leading 17th top-10 finish in 22 starts this season. No. 2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. was able to gain 28 points on Kenseth by virtue of a third-place finish, but Kenseth still owns a 258-point spread between the two. He has been ranked No. 1 for 19 consecutive weeks, dating to Atlanta, and has been in the NASCAR Top 10 for 21 of the 22 race weeks. Kenseth has been a poor qualifier at Michigan -- no starts better than 20th in eight appearances -- but it has not derailed him on race day. He has three top-five finishes in his last four starts -- including a win in the June race last season -- and has finished among the top 15 all but once. He finished 11th in this race a year ago, but followed with a fourth-place effort earlier this season. He has led 10 or more laps at Michigan in three of his last five starts, including 17 in last season's event. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:
No. 2 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet), Dale Earnhardt Inc. Points: 3036. Previous ranking: 2. Earnhardt Jr. earned his career-best finish on a road course with a third-place performance at Watkins Glen. He also led 11 laps, marking the first time in his career he has led in a road-course event, and has now led in a series-high 15 of 22 races. The finish at The Glen, his fourth top 10 in his last six starts, allowed him to shave 28 points off his deficit to No. 1 Matt Kenseth, and now trails by 258. This is Earnhardt Jr.'s third consecutive race week ranked No. 2 and his 16th in a row ranked among the top three in the NASCAR Winston Cup championship. Earnhardt Jr. has been a strong qualifier at Michigan, starting among the top seven in six of his last seven appearances. During that run, he has earned two Bud Poles in this event (2000, '02) and has qualified among the top three in his last three starts at MIS. However, it has not resulted in a run of strong finishes. He has two top-10 finishes in eight career starts, but both have come in his most recent visits (10th in Aug. of 2002 and seventh in June of this year). He also has led at Michigan in five of his last six starts. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: " (neutral)
No. 3 -- Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet), Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 2898. Previous ranking: 3. Gordon, who had won four of the previous six races at Watkins Glen, may look back on Watkins Glen as a pivotal race in his pursuit of the NASCAR Winston Cup championship. He started on the pole, but was spun out by Greg Biffle on the opening lap and fell to 42nd. He made a spectacular run through the field to get back among the top three in the late stages of the race, but ran out of fuel and was involved in an accident on the final lap to finish 33rd. The finish, coupled with an eighth-place effort by No. 1 Matt Kenseth, cost him 78 points between the two and he now trails Kenseth by 396 points. He also dropped to 138 points behind No. 2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. The good news for Gordon is that he is heading to another track he has enjoyed a successful history. He has been extremely strong at Michigan with 14 top-five finishes in 21 career starts, including wins in 1998 (August race) and 2001 (June race). In his last 14 starts, he has recorded 10 top-five finishes. One of those misses, however, did come in this race last season when he finished 19th. He bounced back in the June race this season, qualifying sixth and finishing third. He also led 17 laps, the first he has led at MIS since leading 143 en route to his win from the pole in June 2001. On the qualifying side, he has started 13 times among the top 10, including three Bud Poles. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:
No. 4 -- Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet), Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 2816. Previous ranking: 4. Johnson posted his third top-five finish in his last five starts with a fourth-place effort at Watkins Glen. It was his fifth top-five finish of the season and moved him to 82 points of the No. 3 ranking held by Jeff Gordon. Johnson remains tied for the series lead with No. 6 Michael Waltrip for most weeks (22) in the NASCAR Top 10 and has been situated among the top 10 in the championship for 55 consecutive weeks, dating to last season. Johnson has one top-10 finish in three career starts at Michigan, but the effort (7th) did come in this race a year ago. The finish is sandwiched by a 14th-place effort in his Michigan debut in June of 2002 and a 16th-place performance earlier this season. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: " (neutral)
No. 5 -- Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet), Richard Childress Racing. Points: 2778. Previous ranking: 7. Harvick made the biggest jump in the NASCAR Top 10 this week, moving up two positions to No. 5 following his fifth-place finish at Watkins Glen. This is Harvick's 19th race week in the NASCAR Top 10 and seventh in a row. Harvick, who spent the previous four race weeks ranked No. 7, is one position shy of his top ranking of the season. He was ranked No. 4 following the season-opening Daytona 500 and is just 38 points shy of that ranking heading into Michigan. Harvick has three top-10 qualifying efforts and two top-10 finishes in five career starts at Michigan, and his best overall effort came in this event last season. He qualified on the outside pole -- a personal best -- and led the first laps (42) of his career at Michigan en route to a third-place finish, his best effort at the 2-mile oval. His other top-10 effort came in his start at Michigan in June 2001 when he started eighth and finished 10th. Earlier this season, he started 10th and finished 18th. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:
No. 6 -- Michael Waltrip (No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet), Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Points: 2777. Previous ranking: 5. Waltrip finished 13th at Watkins Glen, but was unable to maintain the No. 5 ranking. He dropped to No. 6 as Kevin Harvick moved into the No. 5 ranking by one point over Waltrip. The performance at Watkins Glen was his sixth top-15 finish in his last eight starts. Waltrip, who has been in the NASCAR Top 10 all season long, has reversed his fortunes at Michigan, having qualified among the top 10 in his last four appearances and finished among the top five in two of his last three. Prior to those recent runs, he had not qualified in the top 10 since August 1996 (10th) and had not finished among the top 10 since June of 1994 (8th). He did finish 15th in this event last season and followed with a fifth-place effort in June. One of his two career Bud Poles came at Michigan, winning the honor in June of 1991. He has not recorded one since, a span of 393 races, but had another near miss in the June MIS race last season when he started on the outside pole. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:
No. 7 -- Bobby Labonte (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet), Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 2768. Previous ranking: 6. Labonte, who leads the NASCAR Winston Cup Series with 10 top-five finishes, finished 14th at Watkins Glen, his fourth race in a row outside of the top 10. He slipped one position in the NASCAR Top 10 to No. 7 this week, the third consecutive week he has lost a position in the NASCAR Winston Cup championship. However, he is just nine points behind No. 6 Michael Waltrip and 10 behind No. 5 Kevin Harvick, and heads to a track he has enjoyed success throughout his career. Labonte has three wins at Michigan, including a sweep in 1995 that has not been equaled since, and 14 top-10 finishes overall in his 22 career starts. He enjoyed a run of nine consecutive top-10 finishes from August 1996 to August 2000, but went without one from that time until earlier this season. He broke the four-race drought without a top-10 effort with a runner-up finish to Kurt Busch in June. He also has 11 top-10 starts in his last 18 appearances, including three Bud Poles with the most recent coming in June. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:
No. 8 -- Kurt Busch (No. 97 Rubbermaid Ford), Roush Racing. Points: 2696. Previous ranking: 8. Busch remains at No. 8 in the NASCAR Top 10 for the fourth consecutive week following a 12th-place finish at Watkins Glen. Busch, who has been in the NASCAR Top 10 for 21 of the 22 race weeks, has finished among the top 12 in his last four starts, including a pair of top-10 efforts. He trails No. 7 Bobby Labonte by 72 points. Busch had finished 39th or worse -- including a pair of last-place finishes -- in three of his first four starts at Michigan, but he may have put all that behind him after his performance in June. He qualified fourth -- his first time in the top 10 at Michigan -- and went on to a victory, which was his third of the season. He also has a 10th-place finish in the June race of 2002 to his credit and has led 23 or more laps in his last three starts at Michigan. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:
No. 9 -- Ryan Newman (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge), Penske Racing South. Points: 2636. Previous ranking: 9. Newman finished ninth at Watkins Glen -- his second top-10 finish in two career starts at the road course -- for his fourth top-10 performance in his last five sstarts. He did not lead any laps, ending a modest streak of four consecutive races of leading at least 11 laps. This marks his third consecutive week in the NASCAR Top 10 at No. 9 and fourth overall. He is 60 points behind No. 8 Kurt Busch. Newman came out strong at Michigan with top-five finishes in his first two starts, but in his two starts since he has finished 31st or worse. He was 31st in this event last season and 41st in June. The encouraging news is that he has qualified among the top 10 and led laps in his last three starts at the 2-mile oval. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: " (neutral)
No. 10 -- Robby Gordon (No. 31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet), Richard Childress Racing. Points: 2627. Previous ranking: 11. Gordon won Sunday's Sirius At The Glen event at Watkins Glen International for the third victory of his career and a sweep of the road-course races this season. His other road-course win came June 22 at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. and that was the start of his current run of five top-10 finishes in his last seven starts. The victory at The Glen improved Gordon one position in the NASCAR Winston Cup championship and allowed him to move back into the NASCAR Top 10, unseating Rusty Wallace at No. 10. It is his third race week overall in the NASCAR Top 10 this season, but the first since being ranked No. 10 following Dover on June 1. He is just nine points shy of the No. 9 ranking of Ryan Newman, but will have to improve at Michigan if he is intent on moving up. Gordon has not posted a top-10 finish in seven career starts at Michigan, his best effort being 17th in this event in 1997. He did qualify a personal-best fifth in this race a year ago, but finished 21st. Earlier this season at Michigan, he was 22nd. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: --
NASCAR Top 10 this week:
1. Matt Kenseth 3294 points
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 3036 (-258)
3. Jeff Gordon 2898 (-396)
4. Jimmie Johnson 2816 (-478)
5. Kevin Harvick 2778 (-516)
6. Michael Waltrip 2777 (-517)
7. Bobby Labonte 2768 (-526)
8. Kurt Busch 2696 (-598)
9. Ryan Newman 2636 (-658)
10. Robby Gordon 2627 (-667)
Weeks at No. 1: Kenseth, 19; Waltrip, 2; Busch, 1.
New arrivals in the NASCAR Top 10 this week: No. 10 R. Gordon.
Most weeks in the NASCAR Top 10: Waltrip, Johnson, 22; Kenseth, Busch, 21; Earnhardt Jr., Harvick, 19.
Largest gain among the NASCAR Top 10: No. 5 Harvick, 2 positions.
Dropped out of the NASCAR Top 10 this week: No. 10 R. Wallace.