When Harvick left RCR for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, it seemed plausible that he might win some races and make a run deep into the Chase. But winning five races, leading a series-high 2,137 laps and capturing eight poles on the way to his first championship in his first year with a new team? Virtually no one saw that coming.
NASCAR via Getty ImagesChris Trotman
Few expected the Sprint Cup Series rookie to challenge for multiple wins and finish in the top 10 in nearly half of the races. Larson did exactly that, however, and in the process earned the respect and praise of many of his more experienced peers.
NASCAR via Getty ImagesSean Gardner
A year after making the Chase for the first time and winning one race, the second-year Team Penske driver took it to a whole new level in 2014 by notching five wins and contending for the championship until his pit crew imploded in the final laps of the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Getty ImagesSean Gardner
Virtually no one picked Almirola to make the 2014 Chase. Yet, that's precisely what happened as a result of his unlikely win in July at Daytona -- where, coincidentally, he went to Victory Lane on the 30th anniversary of team owner Richard Petty's 200th and final NASCAR win.
Getty ImagesJon Durr
Just two seasons removed from being suspended for a substance-abuse violation, the 'Dinger completed his comeback in convincing fashion by scoring his first career Sprint Cup victory on the road course at Watkins Glen -- and with it came his first appearance in the Chase.