LOUDON, N.H. -- Although he's in fifth place in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series points standings, Tony Stewart has to feel like he's the favorite to win the championship.
Ten races are remaining, and the stretch drive has been when Stewart excels most.
''I take it race by race, but I firmly believe this Home Depot team has a shot at winning this thing, despite the roller-coaster season we've had,'' he said as he prepared for Sunday's New Hampshire 300 at New Hamp shire International Speed way.
''Historically, this is the point in the season where we really come on strong. The complexion of this championship changes so drastically from week to week that anyone in the top 10 still has a realistic shot at it. Nobody can say that anyone is out of it by any means. We're close enough to the front now where we can legitimately make a run at this thing.''
Since joining the circuit in 1999, he has six wins and 14 top-five finishes in the final 10 races.
Sterling Marlin leads the stand ings by nine points over Mark Martin. Rookie Jimmie Johnson is third, 72 points be hind, followed by Jeff Gordon
It's mathematically possible for any of the top five drivers, including Stewart, to assume the lead at New Hampshire.
The 118-point spread be tween first and fifth places marks the closest battle for the championship with 10 races to go in Winston Cup history. The next-closest race was in 1984, when first-place Dale Earnhardt was 121 points ahead of fifth-place Harry Gant. Terry La bonte, who was second in the standings with 10 races to go that year, won the title.
PIT STOPS: Todd Berrier, crew chief for Jeff Green's Chevrolet at Richard Childress Racing, was fined $5,000 and Green was docked 25 points for an unapproved left-front spring during Saturday's race at the Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. ... Ashton Lewis Jr. crew chief Char lie Lewis and crewman Scott Honan were fined a total of $3,000 after Honan confronted the crew for Jack Sprague after their fiery crash in Friday's Busch Series race at Richmond. ... Peter Sospenzo was hired as crew chief for Nemechek at Hen drick Motorsports. ... Gary Put nam left Johnny Benson's team as a car chief to be the crew chief for Jerry Nadeau and the No. 44 Dodge. Greg Steadman, Na deau's former crew chief, will be the manager of shop operations for Petty Enterprises.
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