NASCAR NEXTEL CUP SERIES TOP TEN GOING INTO CHICAGOLAND SPEEDWAY

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The following is a glance at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 in the championship entering Sunday?s Tropicana 400 at Chicagoland Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC), Race 18 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 - Hendrick Motorsports): Johnson continued his streak of top-five finishes and maintained his status as the hottest driver in the series with a second-place finish in Saturday?s Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway. The performance was his fourth top-five effort in a row and ninth in his last 10 races. Overall, he has 12 top-five finishes on the season, which leads the series. Sunday?s result allows him to maintain a 27-point advantage over No. 2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. to 27, and hold the No. 1 ranking for the third consecutive week. Johnson has posted two top-five finishes in two career starts at Chicagoland Speedway. He finished third there in 2003, and fourth as a rookie in 2002. He also led both races.
Points: 2545
Previous Ranking: 1

No. 2 ? Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet - Dale Earnhardt, Inc.): Earnhardt Jr. finished third at Daytona, keeping pace with the streaking Jimmie Johnson. Earnhardt Jr. entered Daytona trailing Johnson by 27 points and maintains that deficit for a second consecutive week. This marks Earnhardt Jr.?s third consecutive week at No. 2 following seven straight weeks at No. 1 before Johnson unseated him following Michigan. Overall, he has held the No. 1 ranking for a series-high nine weeks and has been ranked among the top three for all but one week this season. This is also his 50th consecutive race week in the Top 10 dating to last season, an active streak that ranks second only to No. 5 Matt Kenseth?s 52 in a row. Earnhardt Jr. has competed in all three previous Chicago events, but his lone Top-10 finish came in 2002. He finished 38th in 2003, posting his only DNF at this track.
Points: 2518 (-27)
Previous Ranking: 2

No. 3 ? Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet - Hendrick Motorsports): Gordon claimed both the pole and the victory for Saturday?s Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway. The win was his fourth of the season and his second straight following last week?s victory at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma. The four wins also is a series high. Gordon had been tied him with No. 1 Jimmie Johnson and No. 2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the series lead with three wins. Gordon improved one position to No. 3 ? he?s gained three spots in the past two weeks ? and closed to 205 points of No. 2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. He has been ranked among the Top 10 for 15 race weeks, including the last 11 in a row. Gordon has two top-five finishes at Chicagoland Speedway. He finished fourth in 2003 and second in 2002. His average finishing position of 7.66 is second only to Kevin Harvick (6.33).
Points: 2313 (-232)
Previous Ranking: 4

No. 4 ? Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet - Joe Gibbs Racing): Stewart, who finished outside the top 10 in his last three starts, finished fifth at Daytona to protect his No. 5 ranking for the fourth race week in a row. He has not been ranked outside of the top five for the last seven race weeks. He trails No. 3 Jeff Gordon by 110 points heading into Chicago, but leads No. 5 Matt Kenseth by only 14 points. Stewart appears to like Chicagoland Speedway. He has two top-five finishes in the three previous races at the track, including last season?s second-place finish. Stewart finished third in 2002. He finished 33rd in 2001, posting his only DNF at Chicago. Points: 2203 (-3

42)
Previous Ranking: 5

No. 5 ? Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Ford - Roush Racing):Kenseth finished 39th at Daytona ? his fourth finish of 20th or worse in the last five races for the ultra-consistent 2003 series champion. The result, a byproduct of being collected in an early accident, dropped him two spots in the NASCAR Top 10. Kenseth now trails No. 4 Tony Stewart by only 14 points, but only 25 points separates him from No. 6 Bobby Labonte. Kenseth remains one of four drivers to be ranked all season long and has been ranked among the Top 10 for 52 consecutive race weeks, dating to last season. That streak is the longest active one in the series. Kenseth has one top-10 finish in three races at Chicagoland Speedway, a seventh-place finish in 2001. He finished 12th in 2003 and 14th in 2002.
Points: 2189 (-356)
Previous Ranking: 3

No. 6 ? Bobby Labonte (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet - Joe Gibbs Racing): Labonte finished a solid seventh place at Daytona and now has an average finish of 7.6 in his last three races at Daytona compared to an average finish of 35.6 in his previous three starts. Labonte?s ninth top-10 finish of the season helped him rebound from a 33rd-place finish at Sonoma and improve one spot in the Top 10 to No. 6. Labonte makes his ninth consecutive appearance in the Top 10 as the series heads to Chicago, a place that has caused problems for the No. 18 team. In three starts, his best finish is 18th, sandwiched by a 39th and a 36th-place finish last year. Labonte?s best start at Chicago is 12th.
Points: 2164 (-381)
Previous Ranking: 7

No. 7 ? Kurt Busch (No. 97 IRWIN Ford - Roush Racing): Busch improved one spot in the Top 10 to No. 7 following an outstanding performance at Daytona where he finished fourth. Busch?s previous best finish in three starts in the Pepsi 400 was 30th in 2001. This is Busch?s 16th consecutive week in the Top 10 and he sits just 11 points away from Labonte and 36 points away from cracking the top five. Busch had been putting an impressive record together at Chicago before last season, when he finished 39th due to an engine failure midway through the race. Busch started on the outside pole in 2002 before finishing sixth and posted an eighth-place finish in his career-first start at Chicago in 2001.
Points: 2153 (-392)
Previous Ranking: 8

No. 8 ? Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&M?s Ford - Robert Yates Racing): Sadler broke a streak of six top-20 finishes, including three top 10s, with a 26th-place finish at Daytona. It was Sadler?s worst finish since Talladega (28th), another restrictor-plate track, and his worst finish at Daytona since February of 2000 (38th). Sadler suffered the biggest slide of any driver in the top 40 dropping three spots to No. 8. However, Sadler is just one point away from No. 7 Kurt Busch and 12 away from No. 6 Bobby Labonte. He remains one of four drivers to be ranked among the Top 10 all season. Sadler?s spirits should be raised heading to Chicago where the Virginia native?s outlook is positive. Sadler holds an average finish of 15th in three starts and has led laps in his first two starts at Chicago. He posted his career-best finish of ninth last season after starting eighth.
Points: 2152 (-393)
Previous Ranking: 5

No. 9 ? Ryan Newman (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge - Penske Racing South): Newman remains ninth in the Top 10 for the third consecutive week following a 12th-place finish at Daytona. It was Newman?s first top-20 finish at Daytona in five starts. Newman extends his stay in the Top 10 to nine consecutive weeks. At this point last season, Newman was 17th in the point standings. Newman returns to Chicago as the defending champion of the Tropicana 400. Newman led 67 laps last year after starting 14th. In his only other start at Chicago in 2002, Newman was equally impressive

after starting on the pole, leading a race high 87 laps and finishing fifth.
Points: 2112 (-433) Previous Ranking: 9

No. 10 ? Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet - Richard Childress Racing): Harvick?s 14th-place finish at Daytona gave him some breathing room to hold his No. 10 spot in the Top 10, a position he has held for three consecutive weeks. Despite ending a streak of three top-10 finishes, Harvick is now 111 points over No. 11 Kasey Kahne. Despite improving one spot in the point standings, Kahne lost ground on his efforts for an automatic berth in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup moving from 83 to 161 points back from the 400-point cut off. Like Newman, Harvick will be one of the favorites heading to Chicago this week. Harvick won the first two NASCAR NEXTEL Cup events at Chicagoland Speedway in 2001 and 2002. During his 2001 win, Harvick started sixth and led 113 laps. Despite starting deep in the field in 32nd in 2002, Harvick responded leading 29 laps and scoring his second win at the 1.5-mile track. Last year, he led three times for 46 laps, but was denied a ?three-peat? and finished 17th.
Points: 2095 (-450)
Previous Ranking: 10


Fast Facts

Top 10 following Daytona (Race 17 of 36):
1. Jimmie Johnson 2545 points
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2518 (-27)
3. Jeff Gordon 2313 (-232)
4. Tony Stewart 2203 (-342)
5. Matt Kenseth 2189 (-356)
6. Bobby Labonte 2164 (-381)
7. Kurt Busch 2153 (-392)
8. Elliott Sadler 2152 (-393)
9. Ryan Newman 2112 (-433)
10. Kevin Harvick 2095 (-450)

Weeks at No. 1: Earnhardt Jr., 9; Kenseth, 4; Johnson, 3; Busch, 1

Most Weeks in the Top 10: 17 (tie), Kenseth, Earnhardt Jr., Stewart, Sadler

New Arrivals: None

Biggest Gain: No. 3 Gordon, No. 4 Stewart, No. 6 Labonte, No. 7 Busch, one position.

Dropped out: None

Additional Championship Qualifiers (within 400 points of the leader) at this Stage: None

Chasing the ?Chase? (drivers nearest the 400-point mark): No. 11 Kasey Kahne, 1984 (-111); No. 12 Jeremy Mayfield, 1948 (-147); No. 13 Jamie McMurray, 1944 (-151); No. 14 Mark Martin, 1939 (-156); No. 15 Dale Jarrett, 1918 (-177)

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