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NASCAR adds Cup champ to Hall of Fame voting panel

HOMESTEAD, FLA. (AP) - NASCAR is giving its Sprint Cup champion a Hall of Fame vote.

Officials announced it Thursday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, adding other "significant changes" to the Hall of Fame selection process and eligibility rules will be revealed during Champions Week in Las Vegas next month.

The addition brings the total number of voters to 56. The group includes Hall of Famers, NASCAR officials, track representatives, retired drivers, crew chiefs and team owners and media members.

Points leader Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth or Kevin Harvick will get to cast a vote in May. They are the only three in contention for the Cup championship heading in Sunday's season finale in Homestead.

"We're grateful for the opportunity to have another credible voice added to that important moment," NASCAR spokesman Brett Jewkes said.

Drivers welcomed the move.

"It's a huge honor and pressure in a different way that none of us have experienced before," said Johnson, a five-time series champion. "Quickly thinking about it, I think it will help ingrain the current champion into the past and understand more about the history of the sport, the people that came before us. I think it's a cool opportunity for whoever the champion is."

Johnson needs to finish 23rd or better Sunday to clinch his sixth title in the last eight years.

If he falters, Kenseth would have a chance at winning his second championship and first since 2003.

Kenseth echoed Johnson's sentiments on possibly becoming a Hall of Fame voter.

"Yeah, I think it's a cool idea," Kenseth said. "I think anytime anybody asks your opinion and actually listens to it, that's always neat. It would be neat to be a part of that.

"I think it also probably could teach us more about the sport. I think we all think we know a lot about it, but I think you'd learn a lot more about it and probably appreciate it more."

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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