Top 10 Head To Texas
March 30, 2004 | 9:23 A.M. EST
No. 1 - Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 898. Previous ranking: 1. Kenseth finished fifth in Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway to remain No. 1 for the fourth consecutive race week. The performance was his third top-five finish and series-leading fifth top-10 effort in six starts this season. Kenseth was able to stave off Sunday's race winner and Roush teammate Kurt Busch, who moved from No. 4 to No. 2 and closed to 21 points. Kenseth is one of four drivers ranked in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 for all six race weeks and has been ranked among the top 10 in the championship for 41 consecutive race weeks, dating to last season. The streak ranks first among active drivers in the series. Kenseth arrives at Texas Motor Speedway, where he has been solid in his last two appearances. He recorded a victory in 2002 after starting 31st and followed up with a sixth-place effort last season. He has led a combined 150 laps in his last two starts at Texas, including a high of 85 en route to his 2002 victory.
No. 2 - Kurt Busch (No. 97 IRWIN Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 877 (-21). Previous ranking: 4. Busch earned his third consecutive win at Bristol Motor Speedway as he captured Sunday’s Food City 500 before a sellout crowd of 160,000. The win, which was Busch's first of the season and ninth of his career, improved his ranking two positions to a season-best No. 2. The performance also allowed him to close to 21 points of top-ranked Matt Kenseth after trailing by 56 coming into the weekend. This marks his fifth consecutive week among the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10. Busch has registered top-10 finishes at Texas in two of his three career starts at the 1.5-mile oval. He finished a personal-best fourth in his first career starts at the track in 2001 and added a ninth-place performance last season.
No. 3 - Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet). Team: Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Points: 857 (-41). Previous ranking: 2. Earnhardt Jr. finished 11th at Bristol, marking just the second time this season he has finished outside the top 10. The near-miss, however, cost him a position in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Top 10 as he fell to No. 3. He is one of four drivers to be ranked all season and one of two to be ranked No. 1. He also has been in the top 10 for 39 consecutive weeks dating to last season, an active streak that ranks second only to Kenseth. Earnhardt Jr. enjoyed a historic moment at Texas Motor Speedway as he captured his first career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series victory on April 2, 2000 at the 1.5-mile oval. Overall, he has three top-10 finishes in four career starts, including a runner-up finish last season. He has started among the top 11 in every appearance, including a Bud Pole in 2001, and has led in all four starts as well, including a personal-high of 107 laps in 2001 when he finished eighth.
No. 4 - Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet). Team Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 804 (-94). Previous ranking: 3. Stewart finished 24th at Bristol to slip to No. 4 after spending five out of the first six race weeks of the season among the top three. However, Stewart remains one of four drivers to be ranked all season long, with a high of No. 2 for three of those weeks. Stewart has three top-10 finishes in five career starts at Texas, including a personal-best of fifth in 2002 when he led his first laps (15) at the 1.5-mile oval. Last season, he posted his worst finish (34th) as a result of his first DNF (Did Not Finish) at the track.
No. 5 - Ryan Newman (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge). Team: Penske Racing South. Points: 788 (-110). Previous ranking: 9. Newman, voted the preseason No. 1 by the motorsports media, finished seventh at Bristol to move to a season-best No. 5 ranking. The performance was his third consecutive top-10 finish and the run has allowed him to climb 16 positions from No. 21. Newman is the defending champion of the Samsung/RadioShack 500, where he started third and led 77 laps en route to last season's victory. It was a dramatic improvement from his first career start at Texas the previous season, when he started 36th and finished 40th as he posted a DNF (Did Not Finish).
No. 6 - Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 785 (-113). Previous ranking: 6. Johnson finished 16th at Bristol, but was able to maintain the No. 6 ranking for the second consecutive race week. He has spent four weeks among the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10, including the last three in a row. Johnson has been solid in his two appearances at Texas, recording top-10 finishes in both. He finished sixth in his rookie 2002 season and followed with an eighth-place effort last season.
No. 7 - Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet). Team: Richard Childress Racing. Points: 773 (-125). Previous ranking: 11. Harvick finished a season-best third at Bristol to return to the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 after a two-race absence. The performance – his second top-10 finish in a row - allowed him to improve four positions to No. 7. It is his fourth race week overall in the top 10, which includes a season-high ranking of No. 3. Harvick posted a top-10 finish in his first start at Texas - finishing seventh in 2001 - but has not been able to add another in his last two appearances. He finished 25th in 2002 and improved to 15th last season. He did qualify eighth, which easily topped his previous best start at Texas of 25th.
No. 8 - Jeremy Mayfield (No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge). Team: Evernham Motorsports. Points: 764 (-134). Previous ranking: 7. Mayfield finished 17th at Bristol and slipped one position to No. 8. It marks his third consecutive race week in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10, which includes the previous two race weeks at No. 7. Mayfield has a pair of top-10 finishes in six career starts at Texas, his most recent coming in 2000 when he finished sixth. His personal-best effort of fifth came the previous season in 1999. Since his back-to-back top-10 finishes, he has not cracked the top 15 in his last three starts, including 25th last season.
No. 9 - Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&M's Ford). Team: Robert Yates Racing. Points: 757 (-141). Previous ranking: 10. Sadler finished 14th at Bristol, but was able to move up one position to No. 9. It marks his sixth consecutive race week in the top 10 and he remains one of four drivers to be ranked every race week this season, his high being No. 3 following Las Vegas. Sadler recorded a top-10 finish in his first career start at Texas, but has been unable to land one in his four starts since the 10th-place effort in 1999. He finished 41st last season – his worst finish at Texas and first DNF - but on the positive side he led a personal-best 91 laps at the 1.5-mile oval.
No. 10 - Sterling Marlin (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge). Team: Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Points: 727 (-171). Marlin finished fourth at Bristol - matching his season best established at Rockingham - and moved into the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10. He improved six positions - the most of any of the top 10 this week - to vault into the top 10 for the first time this season and first time since being ranked No. 10 following Chicago in July of last season. Marlin has competed in all seven races held at Texas Motor Speedway and has three top-10 finishes. His top effort was seventh in 2002. Last season he finished 29th, marking the third time in his last four appearances at Texas he has finished outside the top 25.
Weeks at No. 1: 4, Kenseth; 2, Earnhardt Jr.
Most weeks in the Top 10: 6 (tie), Kenseth, Earnhardt Jr., Stewart, Sadler.
New arrivals in the Top 10: No. 7 Harvick, No. 10 Marlin.
Biggest gain in the Top 10: 6 positions, No. 10 Marlin.
Dropped out of the Top 10: No. 5 Kasey Kahne, No. 8 Bobby Labonte.
Closing in on the Top 10: No. 11 Kahne, 722 (-5); No. 12 J. Gordon, 721 (-6); No. 13. Labonte, 708 (-19); No. 14 McMurray, 684 (-43); No. 15 Martin, 677 (-50).