Remaining tracks place a premium on what NASCAR's powerhouses do best RELATED: Play NASCAR Fantasy Live " Sign up for RaceView today Either way, someone was going to crash the party. No matter which of the two frontrunners ultimately took the checkered flag this past Sunday at Watkins Glen International , the venerable upstate New York road course was going to deliver what most everyone believed it would -- a new face introduced into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, and a new name almost certainly added to that expanded 16-driver grid. It went above and beyond that, providing viewers with breathless, desperate racing between AJ Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose , both of whom knew their playoff hopes hinged solely on the results of Sunday afternoon. In the end it was Allmendinger, who a year ago this coming weekend was celebrating a Nationwide Series victory at Mid-Ohio for Roger Penske, and now stands on the brink of his first playoff berth at NASCAR's top level. The Chase now appears very close indeed, with the opener at Chicagoland looming just a month away, and during this late-summer stretch run the final pieces will fall into place. There's a bit of symmetry in it all: four races remaining in the regular season, four spots remaining in the playoff. We've reached the point where it will be impossible to have more than 16 different winners, as much as some of us had hoped to see it, if just for the anxious spectacle it would create. While there's still a chance to get to 16 winners and knock out anyone relying solely on points, we're beyond the point of wild cards -- no road courses or restrictor-plate venues remain to level the field for the long shots still holding out hope. The four tracks remaining all place a premium on the things the sport's established powers do best. For instance -- Michigan International Speedway, site of Sunday's Sprint Cup event, and where hours on the dynamometer and in the wind tunnel are prerequisites on a blisteringly fast 2-mile track. The last driver you might be able to term an upset winner in Brooklyn might have been Brian Vickers for Red Bull in 2009, but that's probably unfair given the cash Dietrich Mateschitz was sinking into that program at the time. Before that, the last surprise there was perhaps Charlie Glotzbach in 1970, although owner Ray Nichels turned out some stout cars back in the day. Even at a track notorious for its fuel-mileage finales, the shockers are usually resigned to qualifying on Friday afternoon. Then it's on to Bristol , where Carl Edwards won in the spring, and which demands the kind of short-track rhythm which elite drivers do best, not to mention a car fast enough to prevent getting lapped on an early green-flag run. For all the focus on calamity and bump-and-run, the list of winners at Bristol is as star-studded as that of any other track. That kind of speed on a half-mile venue weeds out the field fairly quickly. There's never really been a shocker at Bristol, which tends to be dominated for long stretches by truly great drivers -- first by Cale Yarborough, then Darrell Waltrip, then Rusty Wallace, then the Busch brothers -- until the next one finds the knack. For years, the place gave Jimmie Johnson fits, it's so difficult. Drama? Plenty. Upsets? Unheard of. Atlanta may be something of a different story. Jerry Nadeau scored his lone career victory there in 2000, and call-up Kevin Harvick pulled an emotional stunner the next season, but both those drivers were working for top owners -- the former Rick Hendrick, the latter Richard Childress -- and wheeling equipment unparalleled for their time. Morgan Shepherd won three times there between 1986 and '93, his latter two victories coming for Bud Moore and the Wood Brothers in an era where those teams were still competitive. But this isn't the '90s anymore. Atlanta is another of those fast horsepower tracks, and the drivers who have historically owned the place are those with the most under the hood. So then -- Richmond. Sweat-it-out, bite-the-fingernails, don't-get-wrecked, last-chance Richmond. We've seen the near-impossible happen there before, in the form of Jeremy Mayfield winning the race in 2004 to wedge his way into that inaugural Chase field the only way he could. The possibility certainly exists that we could witness something like that again -- even if first-time winners run the table the next three weeks, there would still be room for one more on that Saturday night in the Virginia capital. As far as true upset potential, history points to Mayfield (whose Ray Evernham-owned team was better than the numbers might indicate) and Joe Nemechek winning in 2003. Nemechek that season, though, was a Hendrick driver. So does that really count? Michigan will help clear the picture, albeit if only a little. A victory by any repeat winner this weekend will officially lock in all those drivers with one victory -- guys we figured were in anyway -- and bolster the hopes of those hoping to get in on points. Another first-time winner (Michigan mainstay Greg Biffle , maybe?) and the pressure really begins to build on those guys who have yet to visit Victory Lane. A playoff of 16 winners may seem a remote possibility, but if we get to Bristol or Atlanta and there's still a chance of it -- well, a few firesuit collars may begin to feel mighty tight indeed. All that said, a tip of the cap to Allmendinger, who in almost certainly the final opportunity to do so gave us one more real underdog to go along with Aric Almirola, who pulled his shocker in the rain-shortened Daytona race in July. And while we're at it, give some credit to David Ragan, who told us all along this kind of thing was coming, even though he won his Talladega race a year too early. At Watkins Glen, Allmendinger and Ambrose provided a dramatic, grand final hurrah for the little guys. Thanks for the show, gentlemen. But given the tracks remaining in the regular season and the demands required in the Chase, the big boys will take it from here. MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news WATCH: Latest NASCAR video PLAY: NASCAR Fantasy Live FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Get the latest Jeremy Clements news, media, stats, and standings for the NASCAR Nationwide Series driver only on the official site of NASCAR.
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The 'Outlaw' discusses nickname, brother, favorites RELATED: Play NASCAR Fantasy Live " Sign up for RaceView today Q: Are you a fan of NASCAR's colorful history? NASCAR has had a proud history, and I am glad to be a part of it. Being a champion comes with it a great deal of responsibility to remind people of the roots of our sport. Q: Do you identify with legends in this sport? If so, who? There are so many greats and many drivers I grew up admiring like the Allison brothers and Cale Yarborough. They were drivers who hung it all out on the line and threw caution to the wind --- outlaws like me. Q: Are NASCAR races too long? Yes. We need to spice things up with a street race, races in foreign countries and throw in a dirt track for good measure. Besides cutting down the length of races, we need to cut back the number of races. Q: What does Daytona mean to you? It's our Super Bowl. It's the most prestigious stock car race to win. Q: Do you like the concept of The Chase? Absolutely. It defines a regular season and a postseason like our other mainstream sports. Q: What are your top favorite NASCAR tracks? Bristol, Darlington, Indy, Daytona and Sonoma. Q: You've been in some dust-ups and calamities. What do you think after the dust settles and things calm down? Nobody likes vanilla ice cream. We all need a little flavor. Q: Are there certain achievements/victories you are most proud of? 2004 Sprint Cup Championship; 2013 Making the Chase with a one-car, 25th-place team; 2014 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year. Q: When you're at the races, what do you enjoy most? Going to Victory Lane. Q: What do you enjoy the least? Wrecking. Q: Which drivers do you get along with the best? Kevin Harvick , Tony Stewart , Matt Kenseth , Juan Pablo Montoya, Greg Biffle . Q: Where did the nickname "Outlaw" come from? A TV producer from New York City who was doing a short documentary on me. She heard others calling me that in the garage, and it became the name of the show and it stuck. Q: Describe winning Martinsville this season? This is one of my toughest tracks. There's no driver that I would have rather beaten heads-up than Jimmie Johnson . It was a great feeling to have brought home a victory for my new team only a few races into the season and setting us up for a spot in the Chase. Q: To many, you are the best race car driver out there and many people comment on your natural ability. What makes you so good? I owe a lot of credit to my dad, who taught me a lot about racing at a young age. Q: Most difficult thing about driving stock cars? The schedule. It's a long one. It's a lot of dedication by our family to make it all work. Q: Were you destined to be a race car racer? No, my mom was hoping I would be a baseball player. Q: Could you race Formula 1, and if so, why don't you? I believe I could. Not sure how good I'd be, but I'd love the chance. Q: Describe your relationship with Mr. Haas? We have a great relationship filled with sarcasm and humor. He's a guy I enjoy hanging out with. You never know what's going to come out of his mouth. Q: Of ALL racers, who are, in your opinion, the top five racers in the world? Michael Schumacher, Dale Earnhardt, Jeremy McGrath, A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti. Q: Your goals for the rest of 2014? To win races and advance through the Chase. Q: Do you like The Chase -- and can you win it? I like the Chase, and yes we can win it. Q: What will it take to win it? Fast cars, consistency and focus by the whole team to bring their best game forward every week. Q: When you compete in Vegas, do you ever look over at the old Dwarf dirt track? Yes, it always brings back find memories of how it all began. Q: Favorite bands or musicians? Ice-T, Snoop Dogg, Aerosmith, Eurythmics, Red Hot Chili Peppers, DJ Snake & Lil Jon. Q: Last concert you attended? Poison. Q: Favorite TV Shows? "Survival Alaska" and "Dude, You're Screwed". Q: Favorite websites? The Weather Channel, USA Today, ESPN, FOX News. Q: Favorite stores? Bass Pro Shops, Gun Shops. I don't like to shop and buy a lot of stuff online. Q: Favorite brands? Monster Energy, Alpinestars, Panic Switch Army, 7 Jeans. Q: Favorite foods? Lamb chops and Patricia's homemade anything. Q: Favorite Movies? "Six Pack," the "Bourne" trilogy, the "Godfather" movies, "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," "Good Will Hunting". Q: Favorite Actor? Matt Damon. Q: Favorite actress? Sandra Bullock. Q: Athletes? Boxer Manny Pacquiao, NBA star LeBron James, baseball hall of famer Ryne Sandberg, former Formula 1 champion Michael Schumacher. Q: Favorite place on Earth? Cockpit of my race car. Q: Who is in your personal Hall of Fame? President George W. Bush, Cubs announcer Harry Caray, baseball Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt, Donald Trump. Q: Hobbies? No time, but when I can, hunting and shooting, driving any one else's race car . Q: Do you have a guilty pleasure? Sleeping in. Q: What sports do you enjoy watching and following? Baseball, any other motorsports. Q: Who would play you in a movie? Matt Damon. He already played me in "Good Will Hunting." Q: Something you always say? "What?" The delay always gives me time to think. Q: Between you and Kyle, who would win in arm wrestling? Me. I'm in shape. Q: Ping pong? Me. Q: A five-mile bicycle race? Me. Q: 100-yard dash? Me. Q: Checkers? Me. Q: Wheel of Fortune? Me. MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news WATCH: Latest NASCAR video PLAY: NASCAR Fantasy Live FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
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