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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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NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2016 Voting Day set for May 20 RELATED: Steve Byrnes to vote on NASCAR Hall of Fame heroes DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- NASCAR today announced several revisions to the NASCAR Hall of Fame (NHOF) Voting Panel. The 58-member panel will vote for the NHOF Class of 2016 on Wednesday, May 20 in Charlotte, North Carolina, to be announced that afternoon in the NASCAR Hall of Fame's Great Hall. For the first time, new NASCAR broadcast partner NBC will be represented on the Voting Panel. Below are the eight new members of the NHOF Voting Panel. • Ron Bennett, Holland (New York) Motorsports Complex • Jeff Burton , NBC Sports Network • Steve Byrnes, FOX Sports 1 • Brent Dewar, NASCAR • Eli Gold, Motor Racing Network • Kevin Harvick , reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion • Marty Smith, ESPN • Jim Utter, Charlotte Observer A full list of the panel members can be found below. "These eight new voters collectively hold a vast array of NASCAR knowledge from all disciplines of the industry," said Brett Jewkes, NASCAR senior vice president and chief communications officer. "Each new member brings a unique background and passion for the history of NASCAR and will contribute greatly to the Hall of Fame voting process." The 22-member Nominating Committee -- which includes the additions of Bennett and Dewar -- will meet on Friday, Feb. 20 in Daytona Beach, Florida, to discuss, debate, and vote for the 20 NHOF Class of 2016 nominees and five nominees for the second Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR. The results will be announced that afternoon at Daytona International Speedway . Additionally, Dr. Jerry Punch will move to the voting panel for the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence. The fifth recipient of the award will be announced during the July race weekend at Daytona. The NHOF Class of 2015, which includes Bill Elliott, Fred Lorenzen, Wendell Scott, Joe Weatherly and Rex White, will be officially inducted on Friday, Jan. 30 at 8 p.m. ET live on NBC Sports Network. NOMINATING COMMITTEE NASCAR Hall of Fame: Executive Director Winston Kelley; Historian Buz McKim. NASCAR Officials: Chairman / CEO Brian France; Vice Chairman Jim France; President Mike Helton; Chief Operating Officer Brent Dewar; Executive Vice President / Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O'Donnell; Executive Vice President / Chief Marketing Officer Steve Phelps; Senior Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton; Competition Administrator Jerry Cook. Track Owners/Operators: International Speedway Corporation CEO Lesa Kennedy; Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell; Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage; Atlanta Motor Speedway President Ed Clark; former Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Tony George; Dover Motorsports CEO Denis McGlynn; Pocono Raceway board of director member Looie McNally; Bowman Gray Stadium operator Dale Pinilis; Holland Motorsports Complex operator Ron Bennett; Rockford Speedway operator Jody Deery; West Coast representative Ken Clapp. Media: Mike Joy, FOX. VOTING PANEL The Voting Panel consists of the above 22-member Nominating Committee and the following 36 representatives. In addition a Fan Vote is the 59th -- and final -- vote. American Auto Racing Writers & Broadcasters Association: Dusty Brandel, AARWBA President. Eastern Motorsports Press Association: Ron Hedger, EMPA President. National Motorsports Press Association: Brian Nelson, NMPA President. Print & Online Media: Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com; Jenna Fryer, Associated Press; Al Pearce, Autoweek; Jim Pedley, RacinToday.com; Bob Pockrass, Sporting News; Nate Ryan, USA Today; Jim Utter, Charlotte Observer. Broadcasters: Rick Allen, NBC; Jeff Burton , NBCSN; Steve Byrnes, FS1; Eli Gold, MRN; Dave Moody, SiriusXM; Doug Rice, PRN; Marty Smith, ESPN. Manufacturers: Jim Campbell, Chevrolet; Edsel Ford, Ford; David Wilson, Toyota. Retired Drivers: Ned Jarrett; Richard Petty; Ricky Rudd. Retired Car Owners: Junior Johnson; Bud Moore; Robert Yates. Retired Crew Chiefs: Buddy Parrott; Waddell Wilson; Eddie Wood. Reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion : Kevin Harvick . Industry Leaders: Former NASCAR Senior Vice President Paul Brooks; MRN announcer Barney Hall; Retired Associated Press writer Mike Harris; former motor sports journalist Tom Higgins; former broadcaster Ken Squier; former Charlotte Motor Speedway President Humpy Wheeler. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
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An ecstatic AJ Allmendinger reacts to winning his first ever NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen in the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen.
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