Top 10 Head To Charlotte

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No. 1 -- Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Ford), Roush Racing. Points: 4282. Previous ranking: 1. Kenseth, coming off a season-worst finish of 33rd at Talladega, had more misfortune at Sunday's Banquet 400 Presented by ConAgra Foods at Kansas Speedway as an early-race accident led to a 36th-place finish. Prior to his last two starts, he had just one finish outside of the top 20 (22nd at Martinsville) in his first 28 starts. His last two starts have allowed his pursuers to carve into his advantage, especially No. 2 Kevin Harvick. Kenseth has lost 177 points to Harvick in just two races, but maintains a 259-point lead with six races remaining. Kenseth has held the No. 1 ranking for 27 consecutive race weeks -- dating to Atlanta in March -- and has been in the NASCAR Top 10 for 29 of the 30 race weeks. Kenseth returns this weekend to the site of his first career NASCAR Winston Cup victory, which came May 28, 2000 at Lowe's Motor Speedway. He has four top-10 finishes in eight career starts at Charlotte, including runner-up finishes in two of his last three starts. He finished second in the May event in 2001 and 2002, which sandwiched a 34th-place finish in the race last October. He has led in his last seven starts at Lowe's, including a high of 82 laps in May. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:

No. 2 -- Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet), Richard Childress Racing. Points: 4023. Previous ranking: 2. Harvick finished sixth at Kansas for his third top-10 finish in a row and eighth in the last 10 races. He remains at No. 2 for the third consecutive race week and his recent surge has allowed him to move to 259 points of No. 1 Matt Kenseth. In the last two races alone, Harvick has made up 177 points on Kenseth and is the closest anyone has been to him since early August when he led Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 258 following Watkins Glen. Harvick enjoyed immediate success at Charlotte during his stellar rookie campaign in 2001, but has not found much since. He had a pair of top-10 finishes in 2001 -- including a runner-up effort in the May race -- but has finished outside of the top 20 in two of his last three starts. He did improve in his most recent start in May of this season, finishing 13th. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: " (neutral).

No. 3 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet), Dale Earnhardt Inc. Points: 3957. Previous ranking: 3. Earnhardt Jr. finished 18th at Kansas and remained at No. 3 for the second consecutive race week. He trails No. 2 Kevin Harvick by 66 points and No. 1 Matt Kenseth by 325. It is the closest he has been to Kenseth since early August when he trailed by 258 following Watkins Glen. Earnhardt Jr. has three top-10 finishes in eight career starts at Charlotte, but two of those have come in his last two starts in this event. He finish ninth in the October race last season and equaled his personal best at the Charlotte track with a fourth in 2001. His other top-10 effort came in 2000 when he started on the pole and led 175 laps en route to the fourth-place finish. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:

No. 4 -- Ryan Newman (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge), Penske Racing South. Points: 3918. Previous ranking: 5. Newman continued his tear as the most dominant driver in the second half of the season with his series-leading eighth win coming at Kansas. It was his fifth top-10 finish in a row -- which includes three wins -- and his 11th in his last 13 starts. This weekend's victory allowed him to improve one position in the NASCAR Top 10 to No. 4, which is a career-best ranking, and was his series-leading 13th top-five performance of the year. He also has closed to 39 points of No. 3 Dale Earnhardt Jr. heading to Charlotte. Newman has been strong in qualifying at the 1.5-mile oval, starting among the top four in all five of his career starts. The run includes Bud Poles in the May races of 2001 and 2002. Despite the solid starting positions, he was unable to finish better than 19th in his first three appearances but has capitalized in his last two outings with top-10 efforts. He finished eighth in this race last season and followed with a fifth-place performance in May. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:

No. 5 -- Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet), Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 3902. Previous ranking: 4. Johnson finished seventh at Kansas for his fifth top-10 finish in his last seven races. However, the effort could not protect his ranking as he slipped one position to No. 5 as Kansas victory Ryan Newman surged past. Johnson trails Newman by just 16 points and could regain the position this weekend as he heads to a track he dominated in May. Johnson made his NASCAR Winston Cup debut in this race at Lowe's Motor Speedway in 2001 and finished 39th, but since then he has reeled off three consecutive top-10 finishes and led a minimum of 34 laps in each. He was simply perfect in May as he won The Winston all-star race and the Coca-Cola 600. Johnson is chasing another sweep this weekend as he looks to join Dale Earnhardt (1986) as the only drivers to sweep at Lowe's since 1976. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:

No. 6 -- Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet), Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 3862. Previous ranking: 6. Gordon finished fifth at Kansas, marking the third consecutive race he has finished in that position. Gordon, who also was fifth at Dover and Talladega, now has 11 top-five finishes on the season to rank tied for second in the series with No. 3 Dale Earnhardt Jr. He remains at No. 6 for the fourth race week in a row, but has closed to 40 points of No. 5 Jimmie Johnson. In 21 starts at Charlotte, Gordon has registered 12 top-10 finishes, including four wins which ranks in a tie for first with Mark Martin among active drivers. Only one of those victories has come in the fall event (1999) and it also marked the last time he won at the 1.5-mile oval. He enters this weekend riding a streak of three consecutive top-10 finishes at Charlotte, including an eighth in his most recent visit in May. He has led at least one lap in 16 of his 21 starts, but has been shut out in his last four appearances. He has been outstanding in qualifying with seven career poles, which ranks second all-time at the track to David Pearson (14), and has started among the top 10 in four of his last six starts. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:

No. 7 -- Bobby Labonte (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet), Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 3645. Previous ranking: 7. Labonte finished 17th at Kansas to maintain the No. 7 ranking for the third consecutive race week. However, he has fallen 217 points behind No. 6 Jeff Gordon and has No. 8 Tony Stewart just 29 points behind. Labonte has been outstanding at Charlotte and enjoying a strong run since 1997. In those 13 starts beginning with the 1997 season, he has posted 11 top-10 finishes, including eight of those among the top three. The run was highlighted by his second career win at Charlotte, which came in this event in 2000. His other win came in May of 1995. In his most recent appearance in May, he finished third. He also has three Bud Poles to his credit and has led at least one lap in 16 of his last 17 starts at the 1.5-mile oval.

No. 8 -- Tony Stewart (No. 20 The Home Depot Chevrolet), Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 3616. Previous ranking: 9. Stewart, the reigning NASCAR Winston Cup champion, registered his third consecutive top-five finish with a fourth-place performance at Kansas and improved a position to No. 8. Stewart, who finished third at Dover and Talladega, is holding his highest ranking since being No. 8 following Chicago in mid-July. It is his third consecutive race week in the NASCAR Top 10 and 15th overall. He is situated 29 points behind No. 7 Bobby Labonte. Stewart finished 40th in the May race at Charlotte, snapping a run of five consecutive finishes among the top six at the 1.5-mile oval. Overall, he has six top-10 finishes in nine career starts, including a best of second in this race in 2001. He has qualified among the top 10 in his last four appearances -- including a Bud Pole in this race last season -- and has led in six of his nine starts. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook:

No. 9 -- Kurt Busch (No. 97 Rubbermaid Ford), Roush Racing. Points: 3575. Previous ranking: 8. Busch matched his worst finish of the season when he was 40th at Kansas as a result of engine failure. Busch, who finished 40th at Atlanta in March, slipped one position to No. 9, and trails No. 8 Tony Stewart by 41 points. He has been in the NASCAR Top 10 for 29 of the 30 race weeks, including the last 26 in a row. Busch has made six starts at Charlotte and still seeks his first top-10 finish at the 1.5-mile oval. His best finish is 12th on two occasions, including in this event last year. In his most recent appearance in May, he finished 15th. Despite no top-10 finishes, he has led at least one lap in his last three starts at Charlotte, including a personal-high of 46 in this race last season. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: --

No. 10 -- Terry Labonte (No. 5 Kellogg's/got milk? Chevrolet), Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 3511. Previous ranking: 10. Labonte finished 16th at Kansas for his fourth consecutive finish outside the top 15 since cracking the NASCAR Top 10 at No. 9 following Richmond in September. It marks his fifth week overall in the NASCAR Top 10 and second in a row at No. 10. He trails No. 9 Kurt Busch by 64 points and is maintaining a 79-point advantage over No. 11 Michael Waltrip. Labonte is seeking his first top-10 finish at Charlotte since finishing eighth in May of 1997, a span of 12 races. He has made 50 career starts and registered 17 top-10 finishes, including a victory in October of 1996. NASCAR Top 10 Outlook: --

Fast Facts:

  • Weeks at No. 1: Kenseth, 27; Waltrip, 2; Busch, 1.

  • New arrivals this week: None.

  • Most weeks in the NASCAR Top 10: Johnson, 30; Kenseth, Busch, 29; Waltrip, Earnhardt Jr., Harvick, 27; J. Gordon 26.

  • Largest gain among the NASCAR Top 10: No. 4 Newman, No. 8 Stewart, one position each.

  • Dropped out this week: None.

  • Closing on the NASCAR Top 10: No. 11 Michael Waltrip (3432), 79 points out; No. 12 Robby Gordon (3409), 102 points out.
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