Top 10 Head To Michigan

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The following is a glance at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 in the championship entering Sunday's DHL 400 at Michigan International Speedway (1 p.m. ET, FOX), Race 15 of 36 on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule. 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: 2113. Previous ranking: 1. Earnhardt Jr. finished sixth in Sunday's Pocono 500 at Pocono Raceway and remains ranked No. 1 for the seventh consecutive race week and series-leading ninth overall. Despite his series-leading 11th top-10 finish in 14 starts, second-ranked Jimmie Johnson was able to close from 98 points to 58 with his victory at Pocono. The performance at Pocono was Earnhardt Jr.'s fourth top-10 finish in a row and seventh in the last eight races. He is one of four drivers to be ranked in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 every week of this season and has been among the Top 10 for 47 consecutive race weeks dating to last season. It is the second-longest active streak, second only to third-ranked Matt Kenseth's run of 49 weeks in a row. Earnhardt Jr. has only two top-10 finishes in nine career starts at Michigan International Speedway, but they have come in his last three visits so he may be making gains at the 2-mile oval. He broke through with a 10th in August of 2002 and followed with a seventh in this event last season. He has been a strong qualifier, with a pair of Bud Poles (Aug. of 2000 and 2002) and top-10 starts in six of his appearances. That includes a run in which he has started among the top three in three of his last four visits, including third in this event last season. He has led laps in five of his starts, including three of the last four.

No. 2 - Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 2055 (-58). Previous ranking: 2. Johnson won Sunday's Pocono 500 at Pocono Raceway for his third victory of the season and a tie with top-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the series lead in that category. The victory, his ninth in 89 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup starts, was his sixth top-five finish in his last seven starts and it allowed him to shave the deficit in his chase of Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 1 ranking. Johnson trimmed Earnhardt Jr.'s lead from 98 points to 58 as he maintained a strong hold on the No. 2 ranking for the sixth consecutive race week. Overall, he has been among the Top 10 for 12 weeks and the last 11 in a row. Johnson has managed one top-10 finish - seventh in August of 2002 - in four career starts at Michigan. However, he has not finished outside the top 16 in three of those starts, including a 16th-place effort in this event last season.

No. 3 - Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 1889 (-224). Previous ranking: 3. Kenseth finished 21st at Pocono - his second race in a row outside the top 20 - but maintained the No. 3 ranking for the third consecutive race week. However, those two finishes have allowed No. 1 Dale Earnhardt Jr. to more than double his lead over Kenseth, who had a 111-point deficit heading into Dover and now trails by 224 following Pocono. Kenseth is one of four drivers to be ranked in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 all season long and has been ranked 49 consecutive race weeks, dating to the Rockingham race in February of last season. It is the longest active streak in the series. Kenseth has been extremely consistent at Michigan with five top-10 finishes, including a victory in this event in 2002, and none outside the top 15 in seven career starts. He posted top-10 efforts in both races last season, finishing fourth in this event and following with a ninth in August. He has led laps on three occasions and, oddly enough, his only two finishes outside of the top 10 occurred when he led laps.

No. 4 - Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 1874 (-239). Previous ranking: 5. Gordon broke out of a two-race slump in which he finished 30th or worse with a fourth-place finish at Pocono. The top-five performance - his fourth of the season and first since his win at California in early May - moved him up one position to No. 4 in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10. It marks his sixth consecutive race week among the top five and 12th overall among the Top 10. He also closed to 15 points of No. 3 Matt Kenseth as he prepares for Michigan. Gordon is a two-time winner at Michigan - winning in August of 1998 and from the pole in this event in 2001 - and has recorded 14 top-five finishes in 22 career starts. His most recent came in this race last season, when he led 17 laps and finished third. The laps led were his first since leading 143 in his win from the pole and marked the 15th race he had led at MIS. Gordon is a three-time Bud Pole winner at Michigan, and all three have come in this event which ties him for the most for this race with David Pearson. Overall, he has made 13 top-10 starts.

No. 5 - Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet). Team Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 1854 (-259). Previous ranking: 4. Stewart finished 27th at Pocono and the season-worst outing ended a run of consecutive top-10 finishes at three and dropped him one position to No. 5. It marked just the second time in the last eight races he has finished outside the top 16 and fell 20 points behind No. 4 Jeff Gordon. Stewart remains one of four drivers to be ranked all season and has been among the top five for 10 of those weeks. Stewart is a former winner at Michigan - capturing this event in 2000 - and owns six top-10 finishes in 10 career starts. He has been on a roll of late at the 2-mile oval as he enters with top-10 efforts in his last three visits, including two among the top five. He finished second in August of 2002, eighth in this event last season in which he led his first laps (51) since his win and followed with a third in August.

No. 6 - Bobby Labonte (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet). Team: Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 1812 (-301). Previous ranking: 8. Labonte made the biggest jump among the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 this week as he improved two positions to No. 6 as a result of his third-place finish at Pocono. The performance at Pocono was his third top-five finish in the last five races, which has helped move him from No. 10 to his current ranking during that stretch. The No. 6 ranking matches his season high, which he established following Charlotte, and he has now been in the Top 10 for the last six weeks in a row. He has closed to 42 points of No. 5 Tony Stewart and 77 of No. 3 Matt Kenseth. Labonte has been outstanding at Michigan, his career highlighted by three victories and four Bud Poles at the 2-mile oval. Labonte, his wins coming in a sweep in 1995 and the most recent in August of 1999, has posted 14 top-10 finishes in 23 career starts. His most recent came in this event last season, when he finished runner-up to Kurt Busch. More than half of his Michigan starts (12) have been among the top 10, and his sweep of the Bud Poles at the two Michigan races last season marked the first time the feat had been accomplished at MIS since Bill Elliott in 1988.

No. 7 - Kurt Busch (No. 97 Sharpie Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 1803 (-310). Previous ranking: 6. Busch posted his first top-five performance since his victory at Bristol in late March with a fifth-place finish at Pocono. It was a span of seven races between the top-five efforts and it also marked his first top-10 finish since taking sixth at Texas the week following Bristol. Despite the strong Pocono finish, Busch fell one position to No. 7. He has been among the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 for the past 13 consecutive race weeks, his only miss being No. 16 following the season opener at Daytona. Busch, who trails No. 6 Bobby Labonte by nine points, is the defending champion of the DHL 400 at Michigan, earning the victory after starting fourth and leading 43 laps. It marked his second top-10 finish in six career starts - the other was a 10th in this event in 2002 - and fourth consecutive start here that he has led 23 or more laps. He continues to rebound from a poor start at MIS, where he finished 39th or worse - all DNFs - in three of his first four career starts.

No. 8 - Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&M's Ford). Team: Robert Yates Racing. Points: 1773 (-340). Previous ranking: 7. Sadler finished 12th at Pocono to slip one position to No. 8, ending a three-week run at No. 7. The effort was his third top-15 finish in the last four races and he remains one of four drivers to be ranked all season long in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10. He is 30 points behind No. 7 Kurt Busch and 39 behind No. 6 Bobby Labonte. Sadler will be searching for his first top-10 performance at Michigan as he prepares for his 11th career start at the 2-mile oval. However, he does own three efforts among the top 15, including a best of 11th in August of 1999. Last season, he finished 17th in this event. He has three top-10 starts, including a best of fourth in August of 2001, and all have come in his last five visits to MIS.

No. 9 - Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet). Team: Richard Childress Racing. Points: 1735 (-378). Previous ranking: 9. Harvick finished 20th at Pocono, but retained the No. 9 ranking for the second race week in a row and remains among the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 for the ninth consecutive race week. The 20th-place effort at Pocono marked the third time in the last four races that he has finished 20th or worse, the exception being a 10th at Charlotte. Despite the recent struggles, he is just 38 points in back of No. 8 Elliott Sadler and 77 behind No. 6 Bobby Labonte. Harvick has registered three top-10 finishes in six career starts at Michigan, including top-five performances in two of his last three. His best finish is second, which came in his most recent appearance in August of last season when he led 46 laps. He finished 18th in this event last season. He owns three top-10 starts, including the outside pole in August of 2002.

No. 10 - Ryan Newman (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge). Team: Penske Racing South. Points: 1674 (-439). Previous ranking: 10. Newman finished 30th at Pocono due to an accident, but was able to maintain the No. 10 ranking for the second consecutive race week. However, his closest pursuers for a guaranteed berth in the "Chase of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup" closed considerably with No. 11 Jeremy Mayfield just two back, No. 12 Jamie McMurray four behind and No. 13 Kasey Kahne 23 back. Looking forward, he is 61 points behind No. 9 Kevin Harvick. Newman has been in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 for the past six race weeks, but is looking to get back on track to remain among the group after the Pocono effort marked his third race in a row of 24th or worse. Newman has had a "feast or famine" relationship with Michigan with his five starts resulting in three top-five finishes and two of 31st or worse. His most recent appearance in August of last season resulted in his first win at Michigan, leading 32 laps overall. It was his fourth consecutive Michigan start in which he has led laps. He finished 41st in this event last season, suffering his first DNF (Did Not Finish) at this track. He has been a strong qualifier at MIS and enters this weekend with a run of four consecutive top-10 starts, including a best of an outside pole in the August event of last season.

Biggest gain: No. 6 Labonte, two positions.

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