Todays Top Ten List

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The following is a glance at the NASCAR Top 10 in the championship following Sunday’s Virginia 500 at Martinsville Speedway. The NASCAR Winston Cup Series is idle this week before preparing for the Auto Club 500, set for Sunday, April 27 at California Speedway.

No. 1 – Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Ford), Roush Racing. Points: 1,330. Last week’s ranking: 1. Kenseth finished 22nd at Sunday’s Virginia 500 at Martinsville Speedway, but despite a season-worst performance he held onto the No. 1 position for the sixth consecutive week. The finish, however, ended a run of seven consecutive top-10 finishes and trimmed his advantage over No. 2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. from 129 points to 51. After opening the season ranked No. 19 following Daytona, Kenseth has been in the NASCAR Top 10 for the last eight consecutive weeks. Kenseth, who had never led the NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship prior to this season, was second in the title race at this stage of the season last year.

No. 2 – Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet), Dale Earnhardt Inc. Points: 1,279. Last week’s ranking: 2. Earnhardt Jr. finished third at Martinsville and moved closer to being ranked No. 1 for the first time in his NASCAR Winston Cup career. He cut his deficit with No. 1 Kenseth more than half this week, slicing it from 129 points to 51. Earnhardt Jr., ranked 38th following Rockingham in Week 2, maintained his No. 2 position for the second consecutive week and has been in the NASCAR Top 10 for six straight weeks, dating to a No. 10 ranking following Atlanta in Week 4. The top-five finish was his series-leading fifth of the season and third in a row. At this point last season, Earnhardt Jr. was ranked fifth in the NASCAR Winston Cup championship.

No. 3 – Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet), Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 1,191. Last week’s ranking: 5. Gordon captured his first win of the season at Martinsville to move up to No. 3, which is currently his season-best ranking. He became the ninth different winner in nine races this season, one shy of the NASCAR Winston Cup record to start a season that was set in 2000. He trails No. 1 Kenseth by 139 points and No. 2 Earnhardt Jr. by 88 as he enjoys his fourth consecutive week in the NASCAR Top 10 and fifth overall. Gordon has improved 12 positions in the last four races since being ranked No. 15 following a 33rd-place finish at Darlington. He has posted a top-10 finish in each of those races to buoy the run. Gordon is ahead of last season’s championship pace when he was ranked No. 7 at this point of the season.

No. 4 – Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet), Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 1,151. Last week’s ranking: 4. Johnson finished ninth at Martinsville to secure his No. 4 ranking for the second consecutive week and remain one of three drivers – Tony Stewart and Michael Waltrip are the others – to be situated among the NASCAR Top 10 all season long. Of the nine weeks that Johnson has been in the NASCAR Top 10, he has spent seven among the top five, including a high of No. 3 for the first three weeks of the season. Dating to last season, he has been ranked among the NASCAR Top 10 for 42 consecutive races. Johnson trails No. 1 Kenseth by 179 points and is just 40 behind his co-owner, No. 3 Gordon. Through nine races in his rookie season of 2002, Johnson was ranked sixth in the championship.

No. 5 – Kurt Busch (No. 97 Rubbermaid Ford), Roush Racing. Points: 1,125. Last week’s ranking 3. Busch finished 28th at Martinsville to slip two positions to No. 5, but was able to remain in the top five for the fourth consecutive week. He has been in the NASCAR Top 10 eight of the nine weeks, his only miss coming after a 40th-place finish at Atlanta that left him at No. 14. It is the only week he has not been ranked among the top six in the NASCAR Winston Cup championship. Busch trails No. 1 Kenseth by 205 points and No. 4 Johnson by 26. At this stage of the season last year, Busch was ranked fourth in the championship.

No. 6 – Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet), Richard Childress Racing. Points: 1,097. Last week’s ranking: 8. Harvick finished 16th at Martinsville, but was able to climb two positions to No. 6, his best ranking since being at No. 4 following the season-opening Daytona 500. It marks Harvick’s third consecutive week in the NASCAR Top 10 and seventh overall. He has improved 12 positions in the last four races following a 36th-place finish at Darlington that left him at No. 18. He trails No. 1 Kenseth by 233 points and No. 5 Busch by 28. Harvick is well ahead of his championship pace of a year ago, when he was ranked No. 29 after nine races. The improvement of 23 championship positions from a year ago is easily the largest among the current NASCAR Top 10.

No. 7 – Tony Stewart (No. 20 The Home Depot Chevrolet), Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 1,092. Last week’s ranking: 9. Stewart, who slipped two positions last week, regained them this week and moved back to No. 7 following a sixth-place performance at Martinsville. He remains one of only three drivers – Johnson and Waltrip are the others – to be in the NASCAR Top 10 since the outset of the season. He is 238 points behind No. 1 Kenseth, just five behind No. 6 Harvick and 33 behind No. 5 Busch. The reigning NASCAR Winston Cup champion is ahead of last year’s pace when he was ranked eighth at this point of the season.

No. 8 – Michael Waltrip (No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet), Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Points: 1,088. Last week’s ranking: 7. Waltrip finished 23rd at Martinsville to slip one position to No. 8, but he still remains one of just three drivers – Johnson and Stewart are the others – to be ranked in the NASCAR Top 10 all season long. Included in that streak is seven consecutive weeks among the top five from the outset of the season, including two weeks at No. 1. Waltrip, who opened the season with a win in the Daytona 500, is 242 points behind No. 1 Kenseth and only four behind No. 7 Stewart.

No. 9 – Ricky Craven (No. 32 Tide Pontiac), PPI Motorsports. Points: 1,082. Last week’s ranking: 6. Craven finished 27th at Martinsville – his worst effort since a 36th at Las Vegas in Week 3 – to drop three positions to No. 9. Despite the slip, it marks his fifth consecutive week in the NASCAR Top 10 and sixth overall. The recent streak began when he won at Darlington and earned the No. 5 ranking, his highest of the season. Craven trails No. 1 Kenseth by 248 points, but finds himself just 15 points out of the No. 6 ranking held by Harvick. Craven is ahead of his championship pace of 2002, when he was ranked No. 15 at this stage of the season.

No. 10 – Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&M’s Ford), Robert Yates Racing. Points: 1,055. Last week’s ranking: 10. Sadler finished fifth at Martinsville, and his second consecutive top-five finish of the season allowed him to maintain the No. 10 ranking for the second week in a row. He has posted four finishes among the top seven in the last six races to vault from 27th in the championship – following a 42nd-place finish at Las Vegas in Week 3 – to his current position. It marks his third week overall in the NASCAR Top 10, and all three have been at No. 10. He is 275 points behind No. 1 Kenseth and 27 behind No. 9 Craven. Among the current NASCAR Top 10, he has made the second-largest gain in the championship standings from a year ago. Last season he was ranked No. 23 through nine races, an improvement of 13 positions that is second only to Harvick (23).

Fast Facts

NASCAR Top 10 this week:

1. M. Kenseth 1330 points
2. D. Earnhardt Jr. 1279 (-51)
3. J. Gordon 1191 (-139)
4. J. Johnson 1151 (-179)
5. K. Busch 1125 (-205)
6. K. Harvick 1097 (-233)
7. T. Stewart 1092 (-238)
8. M. Waltrip 1088 (-242)
9. R. Craven 1082 (-248)
10. E. Sadler 1055 (-275)

Weeks at No. 1: Kenseth, 6; Waltrip, 2; Busch, 1.

New arrivals in the NASCAR Top 10 this week: None.

Most weeks in the NASCAR Top 10: 9, Waltrip, Johnson, Stewart.

Largest gain among the NASCAR Top 10: No. 3 Gordon, No. 6 Harvick, No. 7 Stewart, two positions each.

Dropped out of the NASCAR Top 10 this week: None.

Charting the Preseason No. 1: Jeff Gordon moved up two positions to No. 3, a season high.

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