NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10 In Review

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FIRST - Kurt Busch won the 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Championship, capturing the Series top honor in his fourth full-time season. His previous best standing in the final point standings was third in 2002. He scored his third career Bud Pole in qualifying for the season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Busch scored three victories in claiming the Series title. He also had 10 top-five and 21 top-10 finishes while posting a career-low three DNFs. Busch entered the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup in the seventh position, but won the first Chase race and moved into the second spot, tied in points with leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. Busch was ranked in the second spot because Earnhardt Jr., had more victories. He scored 1,506 points in the final 10 races (including the Chase adjustment), outscoring his nearest competitor, Jimmie Johnson, by eight points to claim the closest championship margin in NASCAR history. Busch took the lead in the point standings mid-week after the EA Sports 500 at Talladega when Earnhardt Jr., was penalized 25 points and led for the remainder of the season. He was the only driver to post nine top-10 finishes in the final 10 races and suffered just one DNF. Busch led 322 laps in the Chase races, leading the most laps twice to earn 55 lap leader/bonus points - more than any other driver. He finished third in points earned on superspeedways, seventh on short tracks and 16th on road courses. His victory in the spring race made him the first driver to win three straight at Bristol since Darrell Waltrip won seven consecutive races there in 1981-84. He swept both races at New Hampshire, the second straight year he had swept both races at a track.

SECOND - Jimmie Johnson finished second in the final 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup standings, his second straight finish in the runner up position of the final point standings. It was his third time in the final top 10 in as many full-time seasons in the premier NASCAR Series. He posted a Series-leading eight victories and a Series-leading 20 top-five finishes. Johnson also posted 23 top-10s, second only to Jeff Gordon (25), but failed to finish seven races. His seven DNFs was second only to Ryan Newman's nine among the top 10 in the final point standings. Johnson has posted at least 20 top-10 finishes in each of his three full-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup seasons. He ranked second and trailed teammate/co-owner Jeff Gordon by five points after the adjustment entering the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup but posted just one top-10 finish in the first four races. DNF finishes of 37th at Talladega and 32nd at Kansas dropped Johnson to ninth in the point standings after the first four Chase races. He then finished sixth or better, including four victories, in the final six races. Johnson scored more points on Superspeedways in 2004 than any other driver (3,917). He also was the only driver that led laps in all six short-track races. Johnson swept both races at Pocono, Charlotte and Darlington. He has swept both races at a track at least once each year since posting his career-first victory in 2002.

THIRD - Jeff Gordon finished third final 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup point standings, his 11th consecutive time to finish among the top 10 in the final points. The four-time Series Champion led the points on three different occasions in 2004, his first times on top of the point standings since his last championship in 2001. Gordon won six Bud Poles, second only to Ryan Newman who had nine. He scored four consecutive Bud Poles between Michigan and Chicago and went on to win two of the four races. Gordon ended the season with five victories and 16 top-five finishes as well as a Series-leading 25 top 10s. Entering the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup with the point lead, Gordon posted seven top-10 finishes but failed to win in the final 10 races. He remained in the top three throughout the 10-race Chase and also led the point standings following Dover. He joi

ned Mark Martin as the only two drivers who were running at the finish of all 10 Chase races. Gordon finished in the top-three in points earned on superspeedways, short tracks and road courses, the only driver to do so. He was also second in points earned in restrictor-plate races. Gordon led 105 of the 200 laps raced on road courses.

FOURTH - Mark Martin finished fourth in the final 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup standings. It was his 14th time in the final top 10 in the point standings in his 17 full-time seasons on NASCAR's premier circuit. Martin posted one victory, 10 top-five and 15 top-10 finishes while failing to finish only two races in 2004. He began the season ranked 43rd in the point standings after completing just seven laps of the Daytona 500 due to engine failure. Martin then began a steady climb in the point standings that moved him into the top 10 at California. Martin had three runner-up finishes during the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup championship but failed to post a victory in the 10-race shootout for the championship. Along with Jeff Gordon, he was one of only two drivers that were running at the finish in all 10 Chase races. Martin led in five of the 10 Chase races, leading the most laps at Atlanta. Martin finished second in points earned on road courses in 2004, and joined Casey Mears as the only two drivers to post top-10 finishes in both road-course races.

FIFTH - Dale Earnhardt Jr., finished fifth in the final 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup standings, his third top-10 points finish in his five seasons in NASCAR's premier series. He posted six victories, including two in the final Chase races. Earnhardt Jr., dropped from second to fifth in the final half of the 10-race Chase. He entered the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup in the third position and retook the point lead after the first Chase race. Though tied in points with Kurt Busch leaving New Hampshire, he held the points lead based on the tiebreaker of more victories. He led the points again after his victory at Talladega but a 25-point penalty in mid-week dropped him to second entering Kansas. Back-to-back finishes of 33rd dropped the Budweiser Chevrolet driver to fifth in the point standings. Earnhardt Jr., led the point standings for the first time in his career following his season-opening victory in the Daytona 500. He scored 725 points in restrictor-plate races, the second time in four years that he had posted the most restrictor-plate points. Earnhardt Jr., won two restrictor-plate races and was the only driver to post four restrictor-plate top-10 finishes. He also led in points scored on short tracks, posting two victories and four top-10s. He was fourth in points scored in the two road-course races.

SIXTH - Tony Stewart finished sixth in the final 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup standings. He has finished among the top 10 in the final point standings in all six of his seasons in NASCAR's premier series. Stewart posted two victories, 10 top-five and 19 top-10 finishes in the 2004 campaign. He failed to finish just two races, his lowest DNF total since he failed to finish just one race in his rookie season (1999). Stewart entered the Chase in the fourth position but a 39th-place DNF in the first race dropped him to eighth. He dropped to ninth the following week, in spite of a sixth-place finish. Five top-10 finishes in the final eight Chase races moved him back to the sixth spot in the point standings. He posted point gains in three of the final six races but came up 180 points short of the championship. He ranked fourth in points earned on superspeedway and in restrictor-plate races. Though he won at Watkins Glen, posting his third career road-course victory, he was sixth in total road-course points due to a 15th-place finish at Sonoma.

SEVENTH - Ryan Newman finished seventh in the final 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup standings. He has posted top-10 standings in the final points in all three of his full

time seasons. Newman won the Bud Pole Award, posting the most Bud Poles for the third consecutive season. He joined Jeff Gordon as the only driver to post four consecutive Bud Poles since 1985. He posted two victories, 11 top-five and 14 top-10 finishes but failed to finish nine times. Newman claimed the 10th spot entering the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup and never ranked higher than seventh in the final 10 races. He had just three top-10 finishes in the 10 chase races - all top-fives - with his best Chase finish being his victory at Dover. Newman led 567 laps during the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, more than any other driver among the final top 10. He led at least one lap in every Chase race except Darlington. He had four DNFs during the final 10 races, also more than any other Chase driver. His nine DNFs was the most among the top 10 in the final point standings and second only to Jeff Green's 11 among drivers who competed in all 36 races in 2004. Newman won his 20th career Bud Pole in qualifying for the Golden Corral 500 at Atlanta. He reached the 20-pole milestone in 87 career races. Only Fonty Flock (84) reached 20 poles in fewer races.

EIGHTH - Matt Kenseth finished eighth in the final 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup standings. The 2003 Champion finished in the top 10 in the final point standings for the third consecutive season. It was his third top-10 final point ranking in his five full-time seasons in NASCAR's premier division. Kenseth won two races in 2004, posting back-to-back victories at Rockingham and Las Vegas. He posted eight top-five and 16 top-10 finishes while failing to finish six times. The six DNFs was his highest total in his five full-time seasons. He entered the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup in the fifth position and moved to fourth following his fifth-place finish at New Hampshire. His best position in the final eight races was fifth following Talladega. He failed to finish three times and led just 65 laps in the final 10 races. He finished eighth in points earned on short-tracks, just missing a top-10 in points earned on superspeedway and road-courses, finishing 12th and 11th, respectively.

NINTH - Elliott Sadler finished ninth in the final 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup standings, posting his career-best final points finish. His previous best finish was 22nd in 2003. Sadler won twice on the 2004 campaign, winning at Texas in April and California in September. His eight top-five and 14 top-10 finishes were both personal bests in his six NASCAR NEXTEL Cup seasons. Sadler failed to finish just one race this season, the lowest DNF total among the drivers that competed in all 36 races. Entering the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, he ranked sixth in the point standings but seven finishes of 20th or worse in the 10-race span dropped him to ninth in the final point standings. He led in five Chase races. But his 52 laps led was the lowest among the 10 drivers competing in the final drive for the championship. He finished in the top 10 in points earned on superspeedways and road-course and was 13th in points on short tracks.

10TH - Jeremy Mayfield finished 10th in the final 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup standings, his second time to rank among the top-10 in the final point standings. Mayfield finished seventh in the 1998 final points, his career-best point finish. Mayfield's only victory of the 2004 season came at Richmond and was his first victory since 2000. He posted five top-five and 13 top-10 finishes in 2004 while failing to finish just three times. Mayfield raced his way into the Chase, winning the final race before the 10-race shootout to claim the ninth position. He dropped to 10th after a 35th-place finish at New Hampshire and never recovered. He led just one race in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, leading the most laps at Kansas and posting his best Chase finish (fifth). He had three top-10 finishes in the final 10 races but also faile

d to finish twice.

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