After championship finishes of 20th and 25th in his first two NASCAR seasons, Juan Pablo Montoya wasn't a heavy favorite to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup last year.
Neither was Brian Vickers, who finished 38th and 19th in his first two seasons with Team Red Bull.
But after 26 races, both drivers stunned everyone by qualifying for the 2009 postseason. They were the two biggest surprises of the season along with David Reutimann and Joey Logano, who both won their first Cup races.
Who will crash the party this year?
Which drivers stand the best chance of sneaking into the Chase, winning their first race or returning to Victory Lane?
Here's a look at the five drivers who will be the biggest surprises of 2010:
Martin Truex Jr. If wouldn't be a shocker if Truex won a race or made the Chase -- he's done it before -- but he's looking to return to contention with a new team.
Truex, who made the Chase in 2007 with Dale Earnhardt Inc., left Earnhardt Ganassi Racing after last season to join Michael Waltrip Racing, one of the sport's most improved organizations. He will drive the No. 56 Toyota and work with veteran crew chief Pat Tryson.
Truex is excited about what he has seen at MWR and many believe he has a good chance to bounce back. Four-time champion Jeff Gordon, for one, predicts Truex will make the Chase and be a contender.
"That's a great compliment coming from someone like Jeff," Truex says. "I feel this is my best opportunity and the best situation I have ever been in to be competitive every week and to have a great season."
Truex will return to Victory Lane, capturing his second career victory, and make a strong push to make the Chase.
Jamie McMurray The only driver more comfortable in his new situation than Truex is McMurray, who is returning home, so to speak, after rejoining team owner Chip Ganassi, who gave him his big break.
McMurray won his first Cup race in just his second start with Ganassi in 2002 and nearly made the Chase in two of his four seasons, finishing 11th in points in 2004 and 12th in 2005.
After four disappointing seasons with Roush Fenway Racing, McMurray returns to Earnhardt Ganassi Racing to drive Ganassi's No. 1 Chevrolet and team with Montoya.
He says he feels more comfortable in his new surroundings and with Ganassi's two-car team than he did with Roush's five-car armada. He appears to have meshed with his new team quickly, challenging for the lead and finishing third in Saturday's Budweiser Shootout. After his strong run, he has visions of winning Sunday's Daytona 500.
He believes Ganassi gives him his best shot in years, not only at Daytona, but throughout the 2010 season.
"I feel as good about this year as ever," he said after the Shootout. "It's a wonderful way to start my relationship back with Chip Ganassi and Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. It feels great to be back."
Back in his comfort zone, McMurray should challenge for a spot in the Chase again.
Brad Keselowski No one is more anxious about the start of 2010 than Keselowski, the brash, young star who has yet to run a full Cup season but already has a target on his back.
Keselowski has already pulled off one of the biggest shockers in recent years, winning his first Cup race at Talladega last year after a furious last-lap duel with Sprint Cup star Carl Edwards.
He has also ruffled more than a few feathers during his ascent to the top. He ignited a feud late last year with Denny Hamlin, who sent Keselowski a message by intentionally wrecking him in the final Nationwide Series race of the season.
Keseslowski joins Penske Racing with a reputation as one of the sport's most aggressive drivers, one who will do almost anything to win and whose hell-bent approach seems perfectly suited to NASCAR's new "Boys, have at it" philosophy. And Keselowski has no intentions of changing his brash attitude and aggressive approach.
"My attitude towards racing is to do what it takes to win. I'd prefer to win honorably. I can't always say that I've done that," he says with a smile.
"Hopefully we can put together strong enough cars this year to where we can win without drama. A goal of mine is to win a race and look back and nobody say, 'He screwed me over to do it.'"
Whether he will be able to strut his stuff and flash his considerable talent depends on whether Penske and new crew chief Jay Guy can give him competitive cars.
He will drive for Penske's No. 12 team, which has struggled in recent years with Ryan Newman and David Stremme.
"I just want to be a threat to win week in and week out," Keselowski says.
He won't be a threat to win every week and probably doesn't have a good enough team to make the Chase. But when he does, look out.
Sam Hornish Jr. Keselowski is not the only driver looking to stir things up at Penske Racing.
Hornish, the three-time IndyCar Series champion, has not lived up to the considerable hype he brought with him to NASCAR, but he made considerable progress last season -- more than his final results showed.
Though he finished 28th in points, Hornish had two top-five and seven top-10 finishes and had several other races in which he ran up front only to have something go wrong.
Hornish was so disgusted with the way last season ended, 2010 couldn't get here soon enough.
"With the horrible way that our season ended last year, all I was thinking about was getting two days off and go back (racing) again," he said. "I'm just real excited about the season. I just want to go out there and race."
Hornish looks at his third season in NASCAR's Cup series as a make-or-break year. If he struggles again, he could be headed back to Indy cars.
He doesn't plan to let that happen.
"I've looked at the last two years like they were make or break," Hornish says. "I was never told that it was going to take three years and that we're going to give you three years to do this. For me, I think that I'm going to approach it like I've got everything in my pocket and I'm coming into the season as a multi-time winner because it hasn't worked the other way."
Hornish obviously has the talent to win if Penske can give him fast cars, and it would be a shame to see him go back to open wheel racing.
Making the Chase seems like a stretch, but Hornish should win his first Cup race this season.
Marcos Ambrose Ambrose was one of the biggest surprises of 2009, finishing 18th in points in his first full Cup season and nearly winning the two road-course races.
He also proved he is more than just a road-course racer, finishing in the top 10 at both Bristol and Talladega.
With his JTG Daugherty Racing team getting help again from MWR, Ambrose expects to take the next step this season, challenging for a spot in the Chase.
"It's really exciting for us," Ambrose says. "There's a lot of hard work to be done, so we can't get carried away. We just want to build on what 2009 was, (and) 2009 was a great year. ... We just have to be cautiously optimistic and keep our expectations in check."
Ambrose has proven he can drive a Sprint Cup car, impressing the sport's biggest stars with his talent and patience. If his team can show even slight improvement, he should challenge for a spot in the Chase.
He also will win his first race, and don't be surprised if it comes somewhere other than a road course.