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
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Get the on-track times for everything at Phoenix International Raceway Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and NASCAR XFINITY Series heads to Phoenix International Raceway for a doubleheader of NASCAR action, while the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series remains off. Check out the full schedule below. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;nbsp; All times are ET SUNDAY, MARCH 15: RACE-DAY SCHEDULE 1:30 p.m. : NSCS Driver/Crew Chief Meeting 2:54 p.m.: Official Welcome by: PIR President; Bryan Sperber 2:55 p.m. : Intro Honorary Race Official: Doug Ducey, Honorable Governor, U.S. State of Arizona 2:56 p.m.: Intro Honorary Race Official: Brigadier General Scott Pleus, Commander of 56th Fighter Wing, Luke AFB 2:56:30 p.m.: Intro Honorary Race Official: Jared Valdheer, Offensive Tackle, Arizona Cardinals 2:57 p.m. : Intro Honorary Race Official: Ruben Pardo, Winner of Toyota 120, NASCAR Mexico Series Race 2:57:30 p.m. : Intro Honorary Pace Car Driver: Dan Henderson, Two-time US Olympian, Current UFC Mixed Martial Artist 2:58:30 p.m. : Intro Grand Marshal: Brad Woods, Camping World National Training Director 2:59 p.m.: Intro Honorary Starter: Mike Turner, Parts & Accessory Manager, Camping World of Avondale 2:59:30 p.m.: Intro Miss Sprint Cup : Julianna White 3:00 p.m. : NSCS Drivers Introductions 3:30 p.m. : Intro Presentation of Colors by: Luke Air Force Base 3:30:20 p.m. : Invocation by: PIR Chaplain; Ken Bowers 3:30:45 p.m.: Intro National Anthem 3:31 p.m. : National Anthem: Tori Kelly 3:32 p.m.: Flyover TOT: Commemorative Air Force (B-25 and SNJ) 3:38 p.m.: "Drivers, Start Your Engines" by: Brad Woods, Camping World National Training Director 3:45 p.m. : Green Flag -- CampingWorld.com 500 (312 Laps, 312 Miles) ( Get results ) ON TRACK -- 3:30 p.m.: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series CampingWorld.com 500 , FOX (312 laps, 312 miles) ( Follow live ) PRESS CONFERENCES ( Watch live ) -- 12:30 p.m.: Martin Truex Jr . and Joe Garone, GM, Furniture Row Racing -- Approx. 6:15 p.m.: Post-NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race FRIDAY, MARCH 13: ON TRACK -- 3-4:15 p.m.: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice, FOX Sports 1 ( Get results ) -- 4:30-5:25 p.m.: NASCAR XFINITY Series practice, FOX Sports 1 ( Get results ) -- 6-7:25 p.m.: NASCAR XFINITY Series final practice, FOX Sports 2 ( Get results ) -- 7:50 p.m.: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying, FOX Sports 2 ( Full lineup ) -- 10 p.m.: NASCAR Mexico Series Toyota 120, NBC Universo ( Get results ) PRESS CONFERENCES ( Watch live ) -- 2 p.m.: Kevin Harvick -- 2:30 p.m.: Chase Elliott -- 4:45 p.m.: Denny Hamlin -- Approx. 8:45 p.m.: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying GARAGECAM ( Watch live ) -- 2:30 p.m.: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series -- 4 p.m.: NASCAR XFINITY Series SATURDAY, MARCH 14: ON TRACK -- 11:30 a.m.-12:25 p.m.: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice, FOX Sports 1 ( Get results ) -- 12:45 p.m.: NASCAR XFINITY Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying, FOX Sports 1 ( Full lineup ) -- 2:30-3:20 p.m.: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series final practice, FOX Sports 1 ( Get results ) -- 4 p.m.: NASCAR XFINITY Series Axalta Faster. Tougher. Brighter. 200 , FOX (200 laps, 200 miles) ( Get results ) PRESS CONFERENCES ( Watch live ) -- 11 a.m.: Sam Hornish Jr . -- 1:45 p.m.: AXALTA Chairman and CEO Charlie Shaver and President Mike Cash -- Approx. 5:45 p.m.: Post-NASCAR XFINITY Series race MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today
Strong field includes Sprint Cup Series drivers and actor Patrick Dempsey DAYTONA BEACH -- When the checkered flag falls on the 2015 Rolex 24 At Daytona at 2:10 p.m. Sunday afternoon, there's only one thing we now know for sure: The car that's the first under the flag will have earned the victory. "This is a strong field," said Scott Atherton, IMSA president and chief operating officer. "A very strong field." That may be an understatement. One year ago, the 2014 Rolex 24 was the first race for the new TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, which consisted of the combined GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series and the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón. Cars, personnel and schedules were combined, and no one really knew what would happen the first time the new TUDOR Championship took to the track. What happened was a race that ran at an absolutely frantic pace for the full 24 hours. Long gone are the days where teams could cruise at 90 percent, saving their equipment for the last few hours. Now, it's flat out, all day and all night. Bringing home the overall victory last year was the No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP driven by Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and Sebastien Bourdais. That car was followed by three more Corvette DPs and a Nissan ORECA P2 car in fifth. For 2015, there are four Corvette DPs in the field, including the No. 5 Action Express entry, all sporting the new Stingray styling in the front and rear. For the stars to align and have all four Corvettes up front again is a long shot – even through the top three cars were all on the same lap at the finish, 695 laps after the start – the Prototype field is very strong this year. There are 16 Prototypes, including a pair of brand-new Honda HPD ARX cars racing under the Tequila Patrón ESM banner, as well as a Honda-powered Ligier JS P2 that Michael Shank Racing is bringing to the party. There's another new Ligier fielded by Krohn Racing, but it has Judd power. Mazda is back for its second year with a pair of diesel-powered Prototypes built and raced by SpeedSource that are showing a lot more speed than last year. And you can never count out the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates twins, both powered by Ford EcoBoost engines in Riley chassis. With a driver lineup that includes Scott Pruett, Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon, Kyle Larson , Jamie McMurray , Joey Hand, Charlie Kimball and Sage Karam, the two Ganassi cars have to be counted among the favorites. And, of course, there's those other three Corvette DPs – the No. 31 Whelen Corvette DP, a sister car to the Action Express No. 5; the VisitFlorida.com No. 90 and the always-formidable Konica Minolta No. 10 of Wayne Taylor Racing, which has brothers Jordan and Ricky Taylor teaming with veteran Max Angelelli. Looking for a dark horse? The DeltaWing Racing Cars Claro/TracFone was fast in practice, as was the Starworks Dinan-powered Riley, which has an all-star driver lineup that includes Ryan Hunter-Reay and Rubens Barrichello. Of the four classes racing in the Rolex 24, the aforementioned Prototypes are the fastest, but not far behind are the open-cockpit Prototype Challenge cars, which use ORECA FLM09 chassis and Chevrolet engines. It's tough to pick a favorite from the eight entries, but expect the Starworks No. 8, the CORE Autosport No. 54, the RSR Racing No. 11 and the BAR1 Motorsport No. 16 to contend during the 24 hours. The GT Le Mans (GTLM) class is invariably among the most competitive and the highest profile, as the production-based cars are all backed by the manufacturers, and bragging rights are a strong motivation. Corvette Racing has its usual two-car entry and is always a threat to win, especially at a horsepower track like Daytona. There are three Porsche 911 RSR entries, two backed by Porsche North America, and one by Falken Tire, coming off an end-of-the-season victory at the 2014 Petit Le Mans Powered by Mazda at Road Atlanta. The Bobby Rahal-led BMW Team RLL has a pair of BMW Z4 GTEs, and there are two Ferrari F458 Italias, one from AF Corse and one from Risi Competizione. But don't forget the lone Gulf-sponsored Aston Martin Vantage V8, which has a world-class roster of drivers. At 19, the largest of the four classes is GT Daytona (GTD), which – like GTLM, are familiar production-based cars – but don't have quite the power, or the price tag, of the GTLM entries. GTD is impossible to handicap, though the fact that there are nine Porsche 911 GT Americas in the field gives them the numerical advantage. There are three Ferrari 458 Italias, two Aston-Martin V12 Vantages, two Dodge Viper SRTs, a pair of Audi R8 LMS entries, and a lone BMW Z4, but that car is fielded by he respected Turner Motorsport, so don't write it off. If you have to play favorites, the two Alex Job-prepared Porsches (Nos. 22 and 23) should be there in the end, because few have mastered race strategy as well as Job. The No. 63 Ferrari of Scuderia Corsa seems to love the longer races, as does the Magnus Racing No. 44 Porsche. If you are looking for star power, that would be the No. 58 Dempsey/Wright Motorsports Brumos Porsche, with "Grey's Anatomy" actor Patrick Dempsey leading the four-driver team. Bottom line: Don't expect a runaway winner in any of the four classes – competition is simply too strong. Weather could be a factor, if the forecast for some damp weather for the weekend comes true – some cars, and some drivers, seem to thrive on wet pavement, and a slick surface tends to cripple the highest-horsepower entries, leveling the playing field and enhancing the importance of driver finesse. So keep your money in your pocket this weekend – the 2015 Rolex 24 at Daytona is simply too close to call. The Rolex 24 at Daytona will be broadcast from 2-4 p.m. Saturday on FOX; 4-8 p.m. on FOX Sports 2; 8-10 p.m. on FOX Sports 1; 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. on IMSA.com , and on Sunday, 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on FOX Sports 1. All times are Eastern. For more information on where to watch or listen to the 2015 Rolex 24, log onto IMSA.com .