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Drivers to watch

5/26/2004

Check out a short list of favorites for Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway outside Charlotte, N.C.:

Kurt Busch:
Caused a controversy at the NASCAR All-Star
Challenge last week when he bumped Roush Racing teammate Greg
Biffle on lap 11, leading to a multi-car wreck; finished 31st in
the Chevy American Revolution 400 at Richmond International
Raceway on May 15; it was his third straight finish outside the
top 20, but he has been among the top 10 in the standings for 10
straight race weeks as he is ninth with 1,391 points; has not
finished among the top-10 in seven career starts at Charlotte.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.:
Leads the Nextel Cup Series with three
victories and is atop the points standings with 1,643, 40 in
front of Jimmie Johnson; he and Johnson are the only drivers
with seven top-five finishes and Earnhardt is the only one to
earn more than $3 million thus far; has been among the top 10 in
the standings for 44 straight race weeks; has four top-10
finishes in nine career starts at Lowe's Motor Speedway;
recorded first career pole position at this event in 2000 and
led 175 laps before finishing fourth.

Jeff Gordon:
Tied with Mark Martin for most wins among active
drivers at Lowe's Motor Speedway with four; has registered six
straight top-10 finishes to climb from 13th to third place in
the standings with 1,581 points, 62 behind leader Dale Earnhardt
Jr.; has made 22 career starts at Charlotte, finishing among
the top 10 14 times; three of his four wins at Charlotte have
come in the Coca-Cola 600, including first career Winston Cup
victory on May 29, 1994.

Kevin Harvick:
Again will pull double duty this weekend,
competing in the Busch race Saturday; in six career starts at
Lowe's Motor Speedway, Harvick has three top-10 finishes; "The
biggest thing about this race is that it starts during the day
and winds up running into the night," Harvick said about
Charlotte. "The car goes through drastic changes through the
race, and that's the key to winning it. It's starting off with
your car tight enough so that you can run until the sun goes
behind the grandstands, and the track becomes completely shaded
and starts to tighten back up and gain a lot of speed. There is
a fine line in balancing your racecar and making it so that you
can go through and keep up with each segment during the race."

Jimmie Johnson:
Could not defend his title at the All-Star
Challenge as he was part of the wreck caused by Kurt Busch's
bump of Greg Bifle on lap 11; was 11th after the restart and
finished 17th; has four consecutive top-five finishes and 1,603
points on the season, just 40 behind leader Dale Earnhardt Jr.
and 200 more than he had at this point last year; "I get excited
about the 200 points until I realize we have a new points
system and it doesn't really matter like it did before," Johnson
said about his spot in the standings. "Last year, at the
beginning of the season, we had some goofy things happening to
us late in races. It seemed like I was spinning out every time
within three (laps) to go." again will try to defend his title
as he started 42nd in the Coca-Cola 600 last year before climbing
into the lead at lap 245 and holding on for his fourth career
victory.

Matt Kenseth:
The 2003 Winston Cup champion passed Ryan Newman
with three laps remaining and pulled away to win the NASCAR
All-Star Challenge and collect $1,044,000; has five top-10
finishes in nine career starts at Lowe's Motor Speedway,
including a victory at the 2000 Coca-Cola 600; is fourth in the
standings and has been among the top 10 for 46 straight weeks,
which is the longest current streak in the Nextel Cup Series;
is one of just three drivers to lead the standings this season.

Bobby Labonte:
The surging Corpus Christi, Texas resident was
third at Richmond two weeks ago for his fourth straight top-10
finish; that performance moved him up to seventh in the standings
with 1,430 points; the 2000 Winston Cup champion won the Coca-Cola
600 in 1995 and the fall race in Charlotte in 2000; has top-10
finishes in nine of his last 10 starts here, including third place
in the Coca-Cola 600 last year.

Ryan Newman:
Led the Winston Cup Series with eight wins in 2003
but is seeking his first victory this season; despite being winless
thus far, he has showed consistency with seven top-10 finishes; has
finished in the top 10 in each of his last three starts at Lowe's
Motor Speedway, including a fifth-place showing in the Coca-Cola
600 last year; held the lead at the All-Star Challenge, but was
passed by Matt Kenseth with three laps remaining; has won two poles
this year and is just seven points behind Tony Stewart for fifth
place in the standings.

Elliott Sadler:
One of just four drivers to be among the top 10
in the standings each week this season as he is 89 points in front
of 11th-place rookie Kasey Kahne; has struggled throughout his
career at Lowe's Motor Speedway as he has not finished among the
top 15 in 11 career starts; started second in the Coca-Cola 600
last year, but had an accident and finished 36th.

Tony Stewart:
Sponsored by Home Depot, the leading competitor of
Lowe's; led twice for a total of 16 laps and won the first segment
of the All-Star Challenge and finished third; was 40th in the
Coca-Cola 600 last year for his worst showing in a race in which
he did not wreck or have engine troubles; rebounded in the fall
race at Charlotte as he won a side-by-side battle with pole-sitter
Ryan Newman over the final six laps to take the checkered flag in
the UAW-GM Quality 500.