Tony Stewart's defense of his 2005 championship doesn't look so bad on paper, and it sure seemed to be soaring during his laborious celebratory fence-climb following his July win at Daytona.
It was his second win of the 2006 season, and it pushed him to fifth in the championship standings. Little did he know that hot summer night atop the flag stand would be his crowning achievement of the year.
Disastrous finishes in the next two races dropped Stewart to 11th in the standings with only seven races to recover. It was too big of a hole and Stewart stunningly became the first defending NASCAR champion to miss the cut for the Chase for the championship in what was then a 10-driver field.
In true Stewart fashion, he didn't go out with a whimper: Stewart won three of the 10 Chase races, but wasn't eligible to challenge Jimmie Johnson in what became the first of Johnson's five consecutive Sprint Cup titles.
Now here we are, seven years later, and another defending champion is in a similar hole.
Brad Keselowski heads into Saturday night's race at Daytona ranked 13th in the standings and winless this year. He's got nine races left to claim a berth in the 12-driver field, and is among a handful of elite drivers jockeying for the final few spots in the Chase:
BK had three wins at this point last season but finds himself on the outside looking in after Sunday's disappointment at Kentucky, where he had hoped to repeat last year's victory. His problems Sunday started 48 laps into the race -- so early that Keselowski said "there is no reason to drive like an animal" -- when Kurt Busch drove on the apron, then shot back up the track into traffic and into Keselowski.
It created a messy accident that stopped the race for nearly 20 minutes and it dropped Keselowski four spots in the standings to 13th. To earn a Chase berth, he either needs to be ranked inside the top 10 in points, or needs wins to be eligible to claim one of two wild card spots.