With 11 of the 12 Chase spots all but locked up, the attention over the next two weeks will be heavily focused on which NASCAR driver can claim the final wild card spot. The leading contenders to do so are (in no particular order): Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman and Carl Edwards.
But the battle for that 12th and final wild card isn't exclusive to the above four drivers, as there is time for another driver to unexpectedly rise up and stake his claim – though it would certainly stun just about everyone.
So bear with us for a moment while we discuss three highly unlikely – but possible – scenarios that could unfold over the next two weeks.
1. A Richard Petty Motorsports surprise (and not who you think)
With a win at Watkins Glen, Marcos Ambrose could win at either Atlanta or Richmond and race his way into the playoffs. Although Ambrose is still winless on an oval, this isn't as far-fetched as you would think, considering in the last three races he has finished no worse than fifth.
But what if Ambrose's teammate, Aric Almirola, improbably pulled off the Atlanta-Richmond sweep? Would that not leave everyone with their jaws hanging in disbelief? Especially considering Almirola is still winless and has just one top-five in 59 career Cup starts; not to mention 22nd in the standings, 20 points behind 20th-place Jeff Burton.
If this were to actually happen, Almirola would be the most improbable driver to ever qualify for the Chase.
2. Richard Childress Racing gets two cars in the Chase
With not a single victory between its three cars – and Kevin Harvick barely clinging to a spot in the Chase – it's safe to say that Richard Childress Racing has failed to meet expectations this season. But despite a sub-par 2012, RCR still has a shot at placing two cars in the Chase if the near-impossible happens – either Paul Menard or Jeff Burton win out.
This would be a tall task, considering Menard has yet to finish in the top five this season and Burton hasn't won a race since Obama took office. But all that aside, can you image the amount of crow Menard's legion of critics would have to eat if he were to end up in the Chase?
3. A Ganassi resurrection
For the second consecutive year, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing has been mostly uncompetitive. But lest we forget, Jamie McMurray (19th in points) has made a career out of pulling out surprise victories (remember the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400?) and Juan Pablo Montoya (21st) can still turn a wheel with the best of them (although he's been more of a battering ram than a frontrunner in 2012 and has never won a NASCAR race on an oval).
If either of these two can go and win at Atlanta and then do the same at Richmond, it would turn EGR from disappointment to championship contender – something no one saw coming.