1 RYAN NEWMAN
As a rookie the 25-year-old Indiana native started on the front row nine times, winning once and finishing in the top five 14 times. Was the circuit's best driver from June on.
2 TONY STEWART
Indiana bad boy showed last year he could thrive amid distractions, but only two first-time Cup winners have repeated—the last was Darrell Waltrip (1982).
3 JEFF GORDON
Still the most well rounded driver, Gordon showed signs of slipping late last season, when he suffered a stretch of four finishes of 35th or worse in the final 11 races.
4 KURT BUSCH
Nobody enters '03 hotter than the brash, rail-thin Las Vegas native, who went from 11th place to third over the final seven races of '02, his sophomore season.
5 MATT KENSETH
Knows his way to Victory Lane (he won a series-high five races in 2002), but he finished 30th or worse in 11 races, which kept him out of contention for the title.
6 JIMMIE JOHNSON
The sport's best young driver-crew chief combo is 27-year-old Johnson and 31-year-old Chad Knaus, who clicked like an old married couple and finished a surprising fifth last year.
7 STERLING MARLIN
Was a pain in the neck to his opponents (25 weeks as the front-runner in '02) until a pain in his neck (a broken vertebra) ended his championship quest in September.
8 JEFF BURTON
The only Jack Roush driver not to win a race in 2002. However, with new crew chief Paul Andrews, this talented Virginian could be the year's biggest comeback story.
9 MARK MARTIN
The 2002 runner-up made a serious run for his first Cup, but it's not likely the 44-year-old driver of the Viagra-mobile will be up for another strong run at it.
10 RUSTY WALLACE
Despite his first winless season since '85, Wallace spent plenty of time near the front of the pack last year. A top 10 finish (his 17th) is likely, but a second Cup is out of the question.