The Daytona 500 is set to take place this Sunday, and there are some drivers who are inherently on the hot seat heading into Opening Day of the NASCAR season.
It has been a historic past week for NASCAR, as Danica Patrick became the first woman ever to win the pole for the Daytona 500. She was able to survive the Budweiser Duel on Thursday without wrecking her car, so she'll maintain her spot in the front row.
Lining up next to Patrick will be Jeff Gordon, who also survived the Bud Duel to maintain his spot on Sunday.
This is always an important race for every driver involved, but there are some drivers who will be dealing with much more pressure once the green flag is waved.
Let's take a look at the official lineup for the "Great American Race" and which drivers are on the hot seat.
Lineup (Courtesy of NASCAR.com)
|Juan Pablo Montoya|
|Dale Earnhardt Jr.|
|Ricky Stenhouse Jr.|
|Martin Truex Jr.|
On the Hot Seat
Patrick made history this past week, but her sensational showing thus far at Daytona International Speedway isn't finished just yet. Patrick still needs a strong showing in Sunday's race if she is to legitimize what she's done already.
A win would, no doubt, send shock waves across the NASCAR world, and would be a major news story that will put the sport in the national spotlight. That doesn't happen very often and is a unique opportunity for NASCAR.
The next best result for Patrick would be a top 10 finish. While that finish won't have the same impact as a win, Patrick's status in NASCAR would get a serious boost, when coupled with her pole victory.
After that, simply just finishing the race will be important. The last thing Patrick needs is an abysmal showing that lands her near the back of the pack, or worse, if she wrecks and isn't able to finish at all.
If that scenario were to take place, Patrick will lose most of the credibility she gained before the race, and the same old questions about her viability in NASCAR will remain.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
It's been a rough week for Junior.
Earnhardt Jr. has qualified for 19th in Sunday's event, which is his lowest starting point in 14 years at the "Great American Race."
He was also forced to start at the back of the pack during Thursday's Budweiser Duel, after blowing out his engine during Wednesday's practice session. Earnhardt would go on to finish ninth in that race.
Before that, Earnhardt Jr. had a disappointing finish in the Sprint Unlimited and didn't lead for a single lap throughout.
Bottom line: Earnhardt Jr. and his car have not performed up to normal standards, and that's a bad omen for his Daytona 500 prospects.
Doubts will linger about just how well Junior will perform in this race, as he hopes to get his 2013 season off to a good start, en route to his first Sprint Cup title.
Johnson has experienced immense success overall throughout his career, but the five-time Cup champion has struggled in the Daytona 500 since his victory in 2006.
Since then, Johnson has finished 39th, 27th, 31st, 35th and 27th. In last year's event, Johnson crashed during the second lap and finished in 42nd.
Johnson finished 14th in the Sprint Unlimited last week, and then proceeded to finish fourth in the Budweiser Duel on Thursday. He hasn't had much success over the past few weeks, but the Daytona 500 is another chance to change that.
Granted, nobody is going to write off a five-time Cup champ after just one race, but it will raise questions as to just how well Johnson deals with the pressure of such a big race. In order to avoid any of that speculation, Johnson needs a great showing this year.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!