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Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Debate: NASCAR's burning questions

ESPN.com

Our experts weigh in on four of the biggest questions in NASCAR this week:

Turn 1: Should there be a road course in the Chase? Tell us why or why not. And if there should be, which current event would you replace?

Brad Keselowski
Sonoma Raceway

Ed Hinton, ESPN.com: Sure, it would be a lot of fun and interesting to see. Since it's not gonna happen, let's dream all the way. Replace Homestead and run the finale at Sonoma. The Florida Gold Coast cares zilch about the finale anyway, so why not kick it out to Northern California, another huge market with even higher guarantees of gorgeous weather in the fall. And talk about an up-in-the-air final four going in. But realistically, there'll never be a road course in the Chase at all, let alone my Sonoma scenario.

Brant James, ESPN.com: I agree with Brad Keselowski that a road course in the Chase would represent another Talladega-like wild card/disaster-points-day-in-waiting. The paucity of road course events in the regular season perhaps doesn't beg for its inclusion in the playoffs. And the fact that a driver marginal in points could pick off a non-oval win and make the playoffs may not help create a representative postseason field. But a lot of the same logic applies to restrictor-plate racing. Get a road course in the Chase. Road America would be wonderful, but the weather might be sketchy. Maybe Austin would be nice that time of year. Hmmm ...

Ryan McGee, ESPN The Magazine: Yes. If you want to crown a true champ, then the Chase should mirror the season. It already has a short track, flat tracks, intermediate tracks and a plate track. The only discipline missing is a road course. I'd want to replace the oval that lags most in attendance (Dover?) with the Circuit of the Americas in Austin. Spare me the "but that would be two tracks too close together during the Chase" argument. They're almost three hours apart. Martinsville and Charlotte are less than two hours apart, and their races are separated by just two weeks.

John Oreovicz, ESPN.com: Absolutely yes. Sonoma 2014 wasn't the greatest advertisement for NASCAR road racing, but the road course races are generally more interesting to watch on television and usually involve some kind of drama involving strategy or the chrome horn. I'd pull one of the 1.5-mile intermediate ovals out -- probably Kansas -- then I'd really think outside the box and recreate Indy car racing's old Cleveland Grand Prix as NASCAR's Road Race to the Chase. Those cars and drivers would be great on the wide-open Cleveland airport circuit, and NASCAR fans would enjoy the rare opportunity to see all of a road course from a grandstand seat.

Marty Smith, ESPN Insider: Sure. The more diverse the landscape, the more fitting the champion. Survival of the fittest.

Turn 2: What impact do you think Carl Edwards' win at Sonoma will have on his future?

Hinton: You mean does his two-win lock into the Chase strengthen his bargaining position with Roush Fenway? I can't see that. Winning a road race help? Nope. The subjects might come up in negotiations, but Jack Roush would shrug them off. Edwards will be where he will be next year, and that hasn't changed since before the green flag dropped at Sonoma.

Carl Edwards
Carl Edwards

James: Negligible. One win doesn't matter as much as the body of work. Any team or sponsor should have decided on his relative value by now.

McGee: None. It was a great moment, and the looks of relief on the team's faces told you that this silly season stuff has been hanging over them a bit, but whatever he's going to do is going to happen regardless.

Oreovicz: It's a morale-booster, and I think it will make the atmosphere within the 99 team and the Roush Fenway organization more pleasant in the short term. But I don't believe it's going to keep Edwards at RFR beyond the end of this year.

Smith: None. It's a Band-Aid on a cut that needs staples.

Turn 3: Kevin Harvick has two wins and is a lock for the Chase. But is the chemistry good enough right now to be considered a championship favorite?

Hinton: Well, put some sawdust in a big pot and start pouring in nitroglycerine. Chances are you're going to have a big kaboom pretty quickly in the mixing. But if you stir carefully enough, you might just come up with dynamite that'll be useful in blowing out the competition in the fall. What I'm saying is, the chemistry is volatile and will remain so through the summer. If they can settle down and get together, they'll have a dynamite chance of winning the Chase.

Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick

James: Chemistry and composure are both problems. And how could they not, with the litany of confounding little problems that have dogged the team all year? These will only amplify when the races matter most. There's time to fix it or have it fester.

McGee: Happy's getting testy. And he should. Their ability to find ways to lose races would be comical if it wasn't so tragic. But there's no way a team that continues to have quality control problems like they do -- from broken parts to awful pit stops -- can be considered a title contender. They have 10 races to get this sorted out. That's not much time. At all.

Oreovicz: This one is a puzzler, because it seems if it can happen to the 4 team, it will happen. I think you still have to consider Harvick one of the best bets to make the final four, but the team has to clean up some of the sloppiness (pit stops and mechanical failures) and the driver needs to take a chill pill. The speed they show every week demonstrates the potential is there, but they are going to have to learn to work together in a more harmonious fashion if they are going to get the most out of what they have.

Smith: Absolutely. He's damned tired of losing with winning cars. But he's not dumb. He's not so mad as to lose sight that he actually has winning cars. You can remedy pit road mistakes. You cannot replace raw speed.

Turn 4: We're 16 races in to regular season with 10 winners so far and 10 races to go until the Chase. Are we going to get to 16 winners by Richmond, and who do you foresee in the fight for the final Chase berths?

Hinton: Nah, the season is settling in with some of the usual suspects as big winners now. And you figure there'll be some of the usual suspects scrambling in late summer: Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne, et al.

Kyle Larson
Kyle Larson

James: No way there will be 16 winners. The usual suspects will keep amassing wins, because that's what they do. Matt Kenseth will nab one somewhere. Tony Stewart should, but he certainly has some asterisks this year. And stats say Marcos Ambrose will make a bid at Watkins Glen. Maybe Clint Bowyer. And then those within the Chase boundary and without a win sweat it until Richmond is over.

McGee: I flip-flop on this a lot. Kenseth, Newman, Stewart, Bowyer, Biffle and Kahne are all still winless. Then, when you throw in the unexpectedly strong seasons from Kyle Larson and Paul Menard, there's a real to chance to hit 16 or more. But I still think we enter Richmond with 14 or 15 winners and a scrum for points. That night we'll have five guys fighting it out around that 16th spot in points. I'm betting Menard, Bowyer, Biffle and Dillon will be in that mix, with the other guys either high enough in points to be OK or having already won a race.

Oreovicz: I don't expect to see all 16 Chase entries being filled by race winners. Looking at the non-winners, the most likely to break through are Kenseth, Biffle and Stewart, and I like Marcos Ambrose's chances at Watkins Glen. I can see up to 12 drivers vying for those six openings, whether through a win or points; the others are (in current championship order) Newman, Larson, Menard, Bowyer, Kahne, Dillon, McMurray and Vickers. One other interesting thing to watch: Kurt Busch has a win, but he's 26th in points, and a bad stretch of races could conceivably drop him out of the top 30. He's currently 98 points ahead of 30th-ranked Michael Annett and 117 up on David Gilliland in 31st.

Smith: Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Clint Bowyer, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray, Marcos Ambrose, Brian Vickers, Ryan Newman and Paul Menard are all capable. But they'd almost all have to win to reach 16 different winners. I don't see it happening. I don't think the Jimmie Johnsons, Jeff Gordons, Joey Loganos or Dale Earnhardt Juniors of the world are done winning yet.