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5 DRIVERS TO WATCH

TONY STEWART

CAR: No. 20 Pontiac.

STARTING POSITION: Sixth.

BEST HOMESTEAD FINISH: First (1999, 2000).

NOTES: Even if Mark Martin wins, Stewart can clinch his first Winston Cup championship by finishing 22nd. He would love to go out with a victory but admits to having the good sense to run a points race _ dirty words in his book _ with a title on the line.

MARK MARTIN

CAR: No. 6 Ford.

STARTING POSITION: 34th.

BEST HOMESTEAD FINISH: Third (2000).

NOTES: Martin's championship hopes are slim, considering his deficit and Stewart's record at Homestead. But Martin has been focused down the stretch. Anything can happen, and stranger things have in this wacky Winston Cup season.

DALE EARNHARDT JR.

CAR: No. 8 Chevrolet.

STARTING POSITION: Second.

BEST HOMESTEAD FINISH: 13th (2001).

NOTES: Junior was strong last weekend at Phoenix until running out of fuel. Flat tracks are not his specialty or his favorite, but he has raced well on them this season. He might salvage a top-10 spot with a strong finish.

RUSTY WALLACE

CAR: No. 2 Ford.

STARTING POSITION: 18th.

BEST HOMESTEAD FINISH: 12th (1999, 2001).

NOTES: Last chance. Wallace has at least one victory in each of the past 16 seasons but is winless in his past 61 races. He is in good spirits, confident and hopeful that he finally will get to Victory Lane after four runner-up finishes this season.

JOE NEMECHEK

CAR: No. 25 Chevrolet.

STARTING POSITION: Fourth.

BEST HOMESTEAD FINISH: 18th (2000).

NOTES: Nemechek, who Wednesday signed to drive next season for Hendrick Motorsports, is driving with confidence. The Lakeland native won the Busch race at Homestead last year, an emotional victory where younger brother John was fatally injured in 1997.

_ JOANNE KORTH

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