DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 27: Denny Hamlin leads the field during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 27, 2012 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Saturday's Coke Zero 400 will have a large impact on the NASCAR standings as the season approaches the Chase for the Cup.
The last time the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series raced at Daytona the race was nearly called early after Juan Pablo Montoya crashed into a jet dryer and set the track ablaze. The jet fuel from the dryer lit on fire and melted the track as crews tried to extinguish the massive fire.
The odd race was won by Matt Kenseth and featured some of the Sprint Cup Series' strongest drivers like Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski in the back of the field. 16 races later and the standings no longer reflect that result.
While Kenseth remains at the top of the standings, Johnson has rebounded all the way to third while Keselowski and Kahne sit just within the qualifying criteria for the Chase for the Cup.
Including Saturday's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, there are just nine more races before the 12 driver field for the chase is set and the need to win for bubble drivers is at its highest point of the season. Keselowski's three wins all but insure that the driver of the No. 2 car will be in the chase and drivers like Kahne, Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano all need to do the same.
Strong finishes don't do much for any of those drivers. The bubble drivers that are outside of striking distance of the top 10 need wins to earn the two wild card spots.
Qualifying for the Coke Zero 400 will take place on Friday at 4:10 p.m. and be televised on SPEED. The race will begin on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and be televised on TNT.