The best things about superspeedway tracks like Daytona and Talladega is that they are always crapshoots. You never know what is going to happen, which makes it very enticing to watch.
Simply put, anything is plausible.
Because of those tracks, there have been numerous upsets at Daytona and Talladega. Last season, Trevor Bayne shocked the NASCAR world to win the Daytona 500 in just his second career start for the famed Wood Brothers team. When the series traveled back to Daytona later in the year, David Ragan captured the checkered flag for the first win of his Sprint Cup career.
In 2010, Jamie McMurray pulled off a massive upset to win the Daytona 500, the first time that he had won NASCAR's biggest race.
The 2001 and 2002 editions of the Daytona 500 featured upsets in both events, as well. Michael Waltrip captured the win in 2001, the first time he had ever finished first in a Sprint Cup race—however, Waltrip's improbable victory was overshadowed by the death of Dale Earnhardt on the final lap.
The following season, thanks to a foolish decision, Ward Burton beat the field to the finish line to win his first and only superspeedway event.
What remains as one of the biggest upsets was the 1990 edition of the Daytona 500. The aforementioned Earnhardt was leading on the final lap and seemed assured that he would win NASCAR's biggest race for the first time in his respected career. However, Earnhardt drove over a piece of debris left behind by Rick Wilson and shredded his right rear tire. Derrike Cope drove past him and held on for the win.
In a 12-year span, July's Pepsi 400 featured three upsets.
In 1985, Greg Sacks managed to outlast the field and clinch the win for the first and only time in his Cup career.
Nine years later, Jimmy Spencer, the pilot of the No. 27 McDonalds Ford, captured the checkered flag at the 1994 Pepsi 400. Like Sacks, and David Ragan at the same race, Spencer went to victory lane for the first time in his Cup career. Three races later, Spencer would cross the finish line first at Talladega for the second and last time in a Cup event.
During the 1997 edition of the Pepsi 400, John Andretti shocked the field and collected the first win of his Cup career. Piloting the No. 98 RCA Ford for Cale Yarborough, Andretti was able to beat Terry Labonte, Sterling Marlin, Dale Earnhardt and Dale Jarrett to the finish line. Andretti would just win one more race throughout his career, the 1999 Goody's Body Pain 500 at Martinville for the legendary Richard Petty.
The famed track has also been subject to some very weird finishes. During the 2007 Daytona 500, Mike Wallace (fourth), David Ragan (fifth), David Gilliland (eighth), Joe Nemechek (ninth), David Stremme (11th), J.J. Yeley (12th), Reed Sorenson (13th), Boris Said (14th), Robby Gordon (15th) and Johnny Sauter (16th) all finished ahead of drivers such as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch and numerous others.
Not to mention, at the 2006 Pepsi 400, road-course expert Boris Said sat on the pole, led nine laps and finished fourth.
During Saturday's race, there could very well be some strange happenings like some of the aforementioned races.
There could be a first-time winner this weekend, although it seems highly unlikely. The driver that has been poised for his first win for a while has been A.J. Allmendinger, who has been a big disappointment in 2012.
Other drivers that will be looking for their first wins this weekend will include Landon Cassill, Travis Kvapil, Aric Almirola, David Gilliland, Dave Blaney, Mike Bliss, David Stremme, Scott Riggs, Josh Wise and a few others.
There's no doubt that Allmendinger and Almirola have the best chances of capturing their first career wins and it may come this Saturday night if the right cards fall in place.
Those two drivers desperately need a quality finish, as well as these other participants.
McMurray, the pilot of the No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet, had an amazing 2010 campaign. As stated above, he won the season-opening Daytona 500 and then went on to capture the checkered flag at the Brickyard 400 and the fall edition of the Charlotte race.
After recording three wins during the 2010 season, McMurray was thought to be a serious contender to make the Chase in 2011. However, that wasn't the case.
McMurray continually put up mediocre numbers and posted just two top-five and four top-ten finishes. With those numbers, he finished the year 27th in the standings.
Even though this season has been slightly better, McMurray still has a lot of work to do. Through seventeen events, McMurray has recorded just three top-ten finishes and currently ranks 19th in the points standings.
Needless to say, McMurray undoubtedly needs a good finish Saturday night at Daytona.
After all, McMurray captured the checkered flag at the aforementioned 2010 Daytona 500 and the 2007 Pepsi 400 for his first victory with Jack Roush. McMurray then went on to win the 2009 AMP Energy 500 at Talladega, the second and final time he would win a race for Roush.
McMurray has won six times throughout his Sprint Cup career, three of which have come at superspeedways. McMurray has also been one of the best superspeedway drivers over the last few seasons as he recorded a second-place effort at the 2010 Aaron's 499. He also finished fifth in the 2005 and 2006 editions of the Aaron's 499, as well.
If he can avoid trouble, McMurray will definitely be a threat to win Saturday's race.
Of course, Gordon was going to be on this list.
Who needs a win more at this point?
Gordon is currently in the midst of one of his worst seasons since he arrived at NASCAR's top level. He has had many tough races in 2012, recording a 40th-place finish at the Daytona 500, 35th-place efforts at Darlington and Bristol, a 26th-place finish at Fontana and a 33rd-place finish at Talladega.
After his 19th-place finish at Pocono, Gordon was 22nd in the points standings. However, Gordon's No. 24 has finished sixth at Michigan and Sonoma and fifth last Saturday at Kentucky. Because of those three top-ten finishes Gordon has jumped up to 18th in the standings.
Regardless, Gordon still has zero wins in 2012 and remains as the only Hendrick driver to not capture a win this season—Jimmie Johnson won at Darlington and Dover, Kasey Kahne won the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte and Dale Earnhardt Jr. won three races ago at Michigan.
Gordon needs to start winning races if he wants to make the Chase. Qualifications for the Chase aren't based on second- or third-place efforts. They're not based on top-five or top-ten finishes. The qualifications are based on wins, and Gordon needs to start winning if he wants to make it.
Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman and teammate Kasey Kahne have all won in 2012, but remain outside the top-ten. As of right now, Busch and Kahne would make the Chase and Gordon, who hasn't won, would be left out in the cold.
Throughout his career, Gordon has won at Daytona six times—three at the Daytona 500 and three at the July edition. With that resume, Gordon will likely have a strong race and advance further up the standings.
Edwards, the pilot of the No. 99 for Jack Roush, doesn't need a good finish. He needs a win more than anything.
Edwards currently sits eleventh in the standings and has zero wins in 2012. He has struggled throughout the course of the season, and some of it could be attributed to bad luck.
Through the 17 races, Edwards has recorded two top-fives and eight top-ten finishes. However, he posted a 39th-place effort at Bristol and a 31st-place finish at Talladega.
Additionally, Edwards has not posted a top-ten finish in the last five races. "Cousin Carl" finished 26th at Dover, 11th at Pocono and Michigan, 21st at Sonoma and 20th at Kentucky. He appeared poised for a strong finish last Satuday at Kentucky, but had to make a pit stop with a few laps remaining, thus earning him a 20th-place finish. If he was able to finish the rest of the race, Edwards would have recorded his third top-five finish of the 2012 season.
Since he has zero wins and is outside the top-ten in the standings, Edwards would be out of the Chase if it ended now. Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman are all outside the top-ten, but all have wins.
However, it doesn't help that Edwards has never won at a superspeedway. There's no doubt that he has been exceptionally close at Daytona. Edwards finished second at last year's Daytona 500 and at the 2008 Coke Zero 400. He also registered fourth-place finishes at the 2007 and 2009 editions of the July race and also came home in sixth in the 2010 edition. In this year's season-opening Daytona 500, Edwards finished eighth and recorded yet another top-ten effort at the famed track.
Needless to say, he's been extraordinarily close to capturing a checkered flag at Daytona. Edwards is undoubtedly due for a victory at Daytona, as he has been very good there. Edwards has got to win and if he's lucky, he'll get his first win of 2012 this Saturday night.
Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr.
These guys make the list because they are the only two drivers in the top-ten of the standings that have yet to win a race in 2012. Both drivers have been exceptionally close, especially with Truex at the Kansas event in April.
Brad Keselowski, who has won three times in 2012, is currently tenth in the standings and is also 96 points back of Matt Kenseth, the points leader.
Harvick is in a tie with Denny Hamlin for fifth in the standings, 68 points back. Truex and his No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts machine sits eighth in the standings, just 19 points ahead of the tenth-place Keselowski.
If both drivers want to remain safe and have a great chance to make the Chase, both drivers need to collect a victory between now and Richmond, the 26th race of the season.
Harvick has had a fairly decent history at Daytona throughout his career. Harvick's No. 29 won the 2007 Daytona 500 and also won the 2010 edition of the upcoming race. Harvick also won the 2010 Aaron's 499, and has recorded three second-place finishes there as well.
Truex, on the other hand, has not really had much success at Daytona. In fourteen career trips to the famed superspeedway, Truex has registered just one top-ten finish, which was a sixth-place run at the 2010 Daytona 500. However, he has managed 11th, 12th and 13th-place finishes at Daytona.
He hasn't had that much success at Talladega either. He has recorded one top-five and four top-ten finishes in 15 visits to the track. Prior to his eighth-place run at Kentucky this past Saturday, Truex finished 20th, 12th and 22nd in the previous three events, thus falling a little back in the standings.
Both drivers need to record a win if they want to assure themselves a spot in the Chase. If they can't record a win, they just need a good finish in general.
The driver of the No. 18 has had a rough go of it over the last few weeks.
After the series' trip to Charlotte, Busch finished third in the race and ranked eighth in the standings. The following week, at Dover, Busch blew an engine and finished the race in 29th. However, he only dropped one spot in the standings to ninth.
Unfortunately, he finished 30th the following race at Pocono after another blown engine. Because of that, the younger Busch brother dropped three spots to 12th in the standings. He has remained there over the last few weeks.
Busch finished 32nd at Michigan three weeks ago and finished 17th at Sonoma, even though he had a great car. With a few laps remaining, Busch's car wheel-hopped in a turn and collected Paul Menard in the process. Before that incident, he appeared to be headed towards a top-ten finish but that wasn't the case.
Last weekend at Kentucky, Busch clearly had the dominant car, at least for the first-half of the race. But as the night wore on, Busch's car seemingly got worse and worse, and he faded back through the pack. However, he did manage to salvage the race and came home in tenth.
Regardless, Busch needs a good finish at Daytona. He currently sits 12th in the standings, but did win earlier this year at Richmond. Because of that, he currently holds one of the coveted wild-card spots.
Busch has had some mild success at Daytona throughout his career. He won the 2008 edition of the upcoming race and was narrowly beat to the finish line by Jamie McMurray in the 2006 edition. He also finished fifth at this race last season. Additionally, Busch won the July Nationwide race at Daytona in 2007.
Busch has shown that he can win at Daytona. If he doesn't win, he at least posts a good finish. As of right now, Busch needs to start registering quality finishes to stay ahead of Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne and Joey Logano, all race-winners this season.
Jeff Burton, A.J. Allmendinger and Juan Pablo Montoya
All three of these drivers desperately need good finishes. As of right now, Burton sits 20th in the standings, while Montoya sits 21st and Allmendinger is 23rd.
So far this season, Burton has recorded just one top-five and three top-ten finishes. Montoya has just two top-ten finishes in 2012, while Allmendinger has one top-five and three top-tens.
Burton, Allmendinger and Montoya are all in competitive cars, but have had lackluster results thus far. Allmendinger appears to be turning things around. He has finished ninth in the last two races at Sonoma and Kentucky.
Burton has slightly regressed as the season has gone on. He finished fifth at the season-opening Daytona 500 and sixth at Bristol, the fourth race of the season. Since then, his highest finish was a tenth-place effort at Talladega.
As we all know, Montoya had an interesting visit to the track earlier this year. During a caution, Montoya was trying to catch up to the field and somehow managed to get exceedingly loose, lose control of his car and plow into a jet dryer in Turn 3. This put the race in serious jeopardy of not even finishing, but they were able to get everything fixed, and Matt Kenseth went on to capture the checkered flag. However, Montoya finished the race in 36th.
Outside of his eighth-place finishes at Bristol and Michigan, Montoya has finished outside the top 20 seven times. He desperately needs a good finish, as do Burton and Allmendinger.