Drivers to watch

Updated: May 26, 2004, 5:20 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

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

Kurt Busch
Busch
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.

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