Top 10 Head To Pocono

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - The following is a glance at the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Top 10 in the championship entering Sunday's Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway (1 p.m. ET, TNT), Race 20 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 - Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 2850. Previous ranking: 1. Johnson had his run of consecutive top-five finishes end at five as he finished 11th in Sunday's Siemens 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway. The finish marked just the second time in the last 13 races that he did not finish among the top 10, the other being 32nd at Dover due to an accident. However, he actually padded his lead over No. 2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. from 105 points to 165 as he extended his weeks at No. 1 to five in a row. Johnson was victorious in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series' previous visit to Pocono in June, qualifying fifth and leading 126 laps en route to the win. It was his second top-five finish in five career starts, the other a third in his first visit to the 2.5-mile track in June of 2002. He has started among the top 10 in all five appearances, including a Bud Pole in June of last season, and has never finished outside the top 15.

No. 2 - Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet). Team: Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Points: 2685 (-165). Previous ranking: 2. Earnhardt Jr., who sustained burns in a non-NASCAR racing incident during the off week, turned in a valiant effort at New Hampshire to compete, but had to settle for a 31st-place finish. Earnhardt Jr., who did not qualify the car and ran just eight practice laps due to the burns, started the race in place of his substitute driver Martin Truex Jr., who qualified the car third. He started at the rear of the field due to the driver change per NASCAR rules, completed 61 laps and came in during the first caution period running before turning the car over to Truex Jr. in 29th position for the remainder of the race. Truex Jr. did an admirable job, but a brush with the wall nearly midway through the race led to the 31st-place finish. Earnhardt Jr. had to start the race and complete at least one green-flag lap to earn the driver points from the car's finishing position in the event per NASCAR rules. He was credited with 70 points for the 31st-place finish. Earnhardt Jr. remains at No. 2 for the fifth consecutive race week, but fell to 165 points behind No. 1 Jimmie Johnson and No. 3 Jeff Gordon has closed to 37. This marks his 52nd consecutive race week among the Top 10 dating to last season, the second-longest active streak in the series. Earnhardt Jr. has four top-10 finishes in nine career starts at Pocono, which includes a string of three in a row entering this weekend. Last season, he finished fourth in the June race, followed with a third in July and was sixth earlier this season. His best effort at Pocono is second, which he claimed in July of 2001.

No. 3 - Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet). Team: Hendrick Motorsports. Points: 2648 (-202). Previous ranking: 3. Gordon posted his fourth consecutive top-five finish and fifth in the last six races with a runner-up performance at New Hampshire. Gordon, whose only blemish during that stretch is a 38th at Michigan due to engine woes, remains at a season-high No. 3 for the third race week in a row (and sixth week overall) and has closed to 37 points of No. 2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Gordon is a three-time winner at Pocono - his most recent coming in this event in 1998 - and an extremely consistent performer at the 2.5-mile track. In 23 career starts, he has 16 top-10 finishes, including 11 of those among the top five. His most recent came in his last visit, finishing fourth in June. He has 14 top-10 starts, including a pair of Bud Poles, and has led laps on 16 occasions.

No. 4 - Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet). Team Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 2548 (-302). Previous ranking: 4. Stewart, riding the momentum of a fifth at Daytona and a victory at Chicago, recorded his third consecutive top-five finish with a fifth-place effort at New Hampshire. It was his seventh top-five finish of the season, which is tied for fourth in the series, and he remains at No. 4 for the third consecutive race week. Stewart has been ranked among the top five for the last nine weeks and remains one of four drivers to be ranked all season long at this stage. Stewart has been very strong at Pocono with eight top-10 finishes in 11 career starts, including a victory in June of last season. However, two of his three finishes outside the top 10 have come in his last two visits, where he has been unable to crack the top 25. He finished 37th in July of last season and 27th earlier this season.

No. 5 - Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 2481 (-369). Previous ranking: 5. Kenseth, with one top-10 finish in his previous six races, bounced back in the opening of the second half of the season with a fourth-place finish at New Hampshire. It was his best effort since a third at Charlotte in late May and seventh top-five finish on the season. Kenseth, who trails No. 4 Tony Stewart by 67 points, is one of four drivers to be ranked in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Top 10 all season long and has been ranked among the top five for 18 of the 19 race weeks. Overall, he has been ranked among the Top 10 for 54 consecutive race weeks dating to last season, the longest current streak in the series. Kenseth has posted four top-10 efforts in nine career starts at Pocono, his most recent being a personal-best of third in June of 2003. In his most recent appearance, Kenseth finished 21st in the June race. He has led laps in five of his last six visits.

No. 6 - Kurt Busch (No. 97 IRWIN Ford). Team: Roush Racing. Points: 2396 (-454). Previous ranking: 9. Busch earned his second victory of the season Sunday at New Hampshire, outdistancing Jeff Gordon by .607 of a second. The win was his first since Bristol in late March and the 10th of his career. The victory was a huge boost in positioning himself for a berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Nextel Cup as he improved three positions to No. 6, the largest gain of the week, and closed to 85 points of No. 5 Matt Kenseth. It also is his highest ranking since being at No. 6 following Dover six races ago. Busch has either fared extremely well or poorly in his seven career appearances at Pocono. In his last six visits, he has finished 36th or worse in three starts and among the top five in three others. The good news for Busch is that those top-five finishes have all come in three of his last four visits, including runner-up performances in 2002 and 2003 in this event.

No. 7 - Bobby Labonte (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet). Team: Joe Gibbs Racing. Points: 2390 (-460). Previous ranking: 6. Labonte, who held the No. 6 ranking the past two race weeks, finished 17th at New Hampshire and dropped a position to No. 7. It marked the third time in the last four races he has been unable to crack the top 15, but extended his run of consecutive weeks among the Top 10 to 11. He also finds himself just six points behind No. 6 Kurt Busch. Labonte is a three-time winner at Pocono, sweeping both events in 1999 and adding another win in July of 2001. Overall, he owns seven top-10 finishes in 23 career starts, his most recent being a third earlier this season. He also has 10 career top-10 starts, including a best of third on three occasions.

No. 8 - Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&M's Ford). Team: Robert Yates Racing. Points: 2370 (-480). Previous ranking: 7. Sadler finished 15th at New Hampshire, but slipped a position in the rankings to No. 8. The effort ended a two-race stretch of finishing outside the top 20 and moved him to 20 points of No. 7 Bobby Labonte and 26 of No. 6 Kurt Busch. Sadler remains one of just four drivers to be ranked among the NASCAR Nextel Cup Top 10 all season long at this stage. Sadler owns just one top-10 finish in 11 career starts at Pocono, but has made progress in recent seasons. He has finished among the top 15 in four of his last five appearances, including a best of ninth in June of last season. In his most recent visit earlier this season, he finished 12th. He has started among the top 10 in two of his last three starts, including a best of third in this event last season.

No. 9 - Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet). Team: Richard Childress Racing. Points: 2353 (-497). Previous ranking: 8. Harvick finished 13th at New Hampshire for his fourth consecutive top-15 finish, but fell one position to No. 9. He has been among the NASCAR Nextel Cup Top 10 for 14 race weeks in a row, including a high of No. 6 for two weeks during that stretch. His performance at New Hampshire allowed him to extend his modern-era (1972-current) record for most consecutive races running at the finish to 58. Harvick, who trails No. 8 Elliott Sadler by 17 points and No. 7 Bobby Labonte by 37, has one top-10 finish in seven career starts at Pocono, that being a sixth in this event in 2002. In his most recent appearance in June, he finished 20th.

No. 10 - Ryan Newman (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge). Team: Penske Racing South. Points: 2348 (-502). Previous ranking: 10. Newman, whose win at Michigan was his only top-10 finish in the previous seven races, came out strong for the second half of the season with a third-place finish at New Hampshire. It was his sixth top-five effort of the season and allowed him to open some room between himself at No. 10 and his closest pursuers. No. 11 Jeremy Mayfield now trails by 106 points and No. 12 Dale Jarrett trails by 127. Newman remains at No. 10 for the second consecutive race week and has been among the Top 10 for the past 11 race weeks. He trails No. 9 Kevin Harvick by five points and No. 8 Elliott Sadler by 22. Newman has three top-five finishes in five career starts at Pocono, including a win from the pole in this race last season when he led 88 laps. His others were a fifth in July of 2002 and another in June of last season. He finished 30th in his most recent appearance in June, snapping a streak of top-five efforts at the 2.5-mile oval at three. He has started among the top 15 in all five appearances, including a Bud Pole in this race last season, and has led in four races.

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