Top 10 Head To Vegas

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The following is a glance at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 following Sunday's Subway 400 at North Carolina Speedway, Race 2 of 36 on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule. The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series is idle this week before visiting Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 on Sunday, March 7. The first 26 races of the season will determine which drivers will be part of the "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup" in the final 10 races. The drivers who are in the NASCAR Top 10 or within 400 points of the leader after those 26 races will vie for the series title in the "Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup."

No. 1 - Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet). Team: Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Points: 340. Previous ranking: 1. Earnhardt, who grabbed the No. 1 ranking for the first time in his career following his triumph in the Daytona 500, held onto the top position for the second week in a row with a fifth-place finish at Rockingham. The performance was his first top-10 effort of his career at Rockingham and he is the only driver this season to register top-five finishes in the first two races. The result was a seven-point advantage over No. 2 Matt Kenseth, the defending series champion who was victorious Sunday at Rockingham.

No. 2 - Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DeWalt Power Tools Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 333 (-7). Previous ranking: 9. Kenseth, who posted one victory en route to his series championship last season, needed just two starts in 2004 to match that win total. Kenseth, who opened with a ninth-place finish in the Daytona 500, outdueled rookie Kasey Kahne in a dramatic finish at Rockingham that was decided by 0.010 of a second. The victory was the eighth of his career and first since winning March 2, 2003 at Las Vegas, a span of 34 races between wins. The victory allowed Kenseth to improve seven positions in the rankings to No. 2 and put him just seven points behind No. 1 Dale Earnhardt Jr.

No. 3 - Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet). Team: Richard Childress Racing. Points: 294 (-46). Previous ranking: 4. Harvick finished 13th at Rockingham and despite not posting a top-10 finish Sunday he still was able to improve one position to No. 3. His effort at Rockingham was a career-best finish, topping a 14th during his 2001 rookie season. Dating to last season, he has been in the top 10 for 23 consecutive race weeks.

No. 4 - Scott Wimmer (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge). Team: Bill Davis Racing. Points: 288 (-52). Previous ranking: 3. Wimmer, coming off a surprising third-place finish in the Daytona 500, finished 15th at Rockingham and the rookie remained among the top five. He slipped one position to No. 4, but trails No. 1 Dale Earnhardt Jr. by just 52 points. Despite Kasey Kahne's strong runner-up finish at Rockingham, Wimmer maintained the lead in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings, 28-26, over Kahne in the six-driver battle.

No. 5 - Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 286 (-54). Previous ranking: 7. Gordon posted his second top-10 finish of the season with a 10th-place effort at Rockingham, and the performance moved him up two positions to No. 5. Gordon, who finished eighth at Daytona, joins No. 1 Dale Earnhardt Jr. and No. 2 Matt Kenseth as the only drivers to post top-10 finishes in the first two races of this season. Dating to Dover in September 2003, Gordon has recorded top-10 finishes in 10 of his last 11 races.

No. 6 - Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet). Team Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 265 (-75). Previous ranking: 2. Stewart was riding a career-best start to a season being ranked No. 2 following the Daytona 500, but a 26th-place finish at Rockingham dropped him out of the top five in the championship. He slipped four positions to No. 6 and finds himself 75 points behind No. 1 Dale Earnhardt Jr. It still remains his highest ranking since being No. 3 following Bristol in March of last season.

No. 7 - Kurt Busch (No. 97 IRWIN Ford), Team: Roush Racing. Points: 257 (-83). Previous ranking: 16. Busch, who finished 16th at the Daytona 500, finished eighth at Rockingham and the two efforts combined vaulted him into the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 at No. 7. He was previously ranked No. 16 and the improvement of nine positions was the largest move among the top-10 contingent this week. Busch, who ranked No. 1 last season following Rockingham, is enjoying his highest ranking since being No. 7 following New Hampshire in September of 2003. He is 83 points behind No. 1 Dale Earnhardt Jr.

No. 8 - Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&M’s Ford), Team: Robert Yates Racing. Points: 255 (-85). Previous ranking: 8. Sadler finished 18th at Rockingham, but was able to maintain the No. 8 ranking for the second consecutive week. The No. 8 ranking for these two weeks matches the second-highest ranking of his career (following Texas, 2001) and trails only his No. 2 ranking following the Daytona 500 in 2002. Sadler trails No. 1 Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 85 points.

No. 9 - Ward Burton (No. 0 NetZero Hi-Speed Chevrolet). Team: Haas CNC Racing. Points: 250 (-90). Previous ranking: 17. Burton finished ninth at Rockingham and vaulted into the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 with the second-biggest jump among the group. He moved from No. 17 to No. 9, an improvement of eight positions which was second only to No. 7 Kurt Busch's move of nine spots. It marks Burton's first time in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 since being ranked No. 8 at Darlington in March of 2002. Burton trails No. 1 Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 90 points.

No. 10 - Joe Nemechek (No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet). Team: MB2 Motorsports. Points: 241 (-99). Previous ranking: 6. Nemechek, situated at a career-best No. 6 following the Daytona 500, finished 24th at Rockingham, but remained in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10. He slipped four positions to No. 10 and trails No. 1 Dale Earnhardt Jr. by 99 points. His second week in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 already doubled the amount of weeks he was ranked among the top 10 in all of last season.

New arrivals this week in the Top 10: No. 7 Busch, No. 9 W. Burton.

Biggest gain in the Top 10: No. 7 Busch, nine positions.

Dropped out of the Top 10: No. 5 Johnson, No. 10 Jarrett.

Closing in on the Top 10: No. 11 Jamie McMurray (-16); No. 12 Ryan Newman (-16); No. 13 Rusty Wallace (-19); No. 14 Greg Biffle (-20); No. 15 Casey Mears (-20).

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