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Our experts weigh in on four of the biggest questions in NASCAR this week:
Ed Hinton, ESPN.com: Frankly, no. I just don't see anybody worth any more tub-thumping than he's already getting.
Brant James, ESPN.com: Joey Logano. Fifth, third, sixth and third in the past four weeks and up to fourth in the driver standings. He led a race-high 86 laps on Sunday at Michigan, and although he said Jeff Gordon's winning car was best, the Team Penske driver clearly thought he was close to a third win of the season. He's won at Richmond and Texas and has another crack coming at each, the latter in the Chase. The former wunderkind might make some noise in the postseason and we should have heard him coming.
Ryan McGee, ESPN The Magazine: Joey Logano. I think if you went to the track and polled 1,000 fans with the question "Which driver is ranked fourth in points, second in top-10s and second in average finish for the season?" 900 of them would go through 10 names before they got to the real answer, Logano.
John Oreovicz, ESPN.com: Joey Logano. We talk a lot about drivers who are winning and drivers who are not winning, and Logano rarely gets mentioned despite having two wins and ranking fourth in points scored. This is the second year in a row Logano started a run of strong finishes at the Brickyard 400, and if his Chase gets off to a better start than in 2013 (DNF at Chicagoland), he could be a factor to the end.
Marty Smith, ESPN Insider: No. Hendrick Motorsports -- including Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch -- and Penske Racing are the class of the field. Hendrick engines are the key separating factor right now. On intermediate tracks their advantage is obvious. They have something no one else has. Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano are laser-fast with excellent power, as well. We cover the Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Harvick, Busch, Logano and Keselowski teams aplenty. The Gibbs teams are quiet. They don't have the horsepower that Hendrick and Penske have, as evidenced by Denny Hamlin admitting he had to drive super-aggressively at Michigan just to keep up.
Hinton: Kasey Kahne always has a win in him somewhere, sometime. Will he do it in the next three races? Probably not, but Atlanta is his best shot. Kyle Larson just might have his best chance at a win coming up Saturday night at Bristol.
|Kasey Kahne: Still winless but still in the Chase hunt|
James: Jamie McMurray ... maybe. And I'm grasping. McMurray was fourth at Richmond last fall and 13th this spring, so he has been in the mix. And the veteran driver at Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates seems to have a flair for the dramatic, so pulling a Jeremy Mayfield at Richmond (2004) to advance to the postseason is perhaps in his profile.
McGee: First, I think the wins will go to guys already in, even if it's the guys barely hanging on, such as Kenseth, Newman, Bowyer or Biffle. But of the guys currently outside, I'll say Kyle Larson. And his best chance will be this weekend at Bristol.
Oreovicz: I'm afraid the correct answer is really "none of the above," but forced to choose, I'll take Kasey Kahne. With the might of the Hendrick empire behind him, he certainly has an edge on his competition.
Smith: Kyle Larson. He has the speed to win Atlanta. (And a Hendrick engine.)
Hinton: Yes, if NASCAR wants to be tough enough. Make it, say, a $250,000 fine, automatic, barring fire or other emergency, and make it payable only by the driver, not his team. Knock out a few of those tropical vacations and they'll learn. But NASCAR has built enough judgment calls into the rule that, frankly, I think it's just a gesture that is likely to be watered down in the penalty phase.
James: No. Drivers must always be given the leeway to evacuate a race car they feel poses an immediate danger, so there's the ticket to the track. And unless the sanctioning body requires drivers to handcuff themselves to the catchfence, they will invariably, after a substantial passage of time, probably, begin creeping toward the racing line to wag fingers or tongues. It's a peculiar situation when the best outcome is a lobbed helmet from the top of the banking.
McGee: Yes. But they have to make the penalty humongous enough that it stays in the forefront of a driver's mind, even within the throes of post-crash emotion. The NBA has an automatic one-game suspension for anyone who leaves the bench during a fight. NASCAR should make it a one-race suspension for anyone who walks onto the racing surface looking for one.
Oreovicz: Not really. I am certain NASCAR will wield a heavy hammer the first time somebody does charge the track -- a big fine or suspension -- but an angry driver isn't going to be thinking about that in the heat of the moment of a racing incident.
Smith: Sure. It is an arbitrary, case-by-case-basis approach. So there is no black and white here. Just don't run into traffic and be boisterous and you won't be reprimanded. The tower will determine whether someone is punished or not. This is smart of NASCAR. First, it reminds the drivers to let cooler heads prevail until they're back in the garage. It is also a way for NASCAR to ensure they're covered in case a driver did happen to get injured, or worse, by a tragic, on-track, non-racing incident.
Hinton: Maybe 35 percent. He has nine to go, and I'm guessing he drives two more seasons after this one. Best scenario, he wins three more this season for 94. Then averaging three in each of the next two years is within reach. If he stays as hot as he is, he could top 100. But to reach 100, he needs to remain a force beyond this season.
|Jeff Gordon: Ninety-one wins and counting ...|
James: Ninety-one percent (see what I did there?). He's nine wins away from the century mark and will probably be within seven by the end of the season. If he competes until he's 45 -- and why not, amid such a late-career renaissance? -- he will have 72 races to reach 100. At his current clip of a win every eight races, he would press David Pearson's mark of 105 wins, which is second all time only to Richard Petty's 200.
McGee: If you'd asked this at the start of the summer I would have said 25 percent. Now I'd put it at 70 percent. For a guy who has averaged 2.25 wins over the past four years, getting nine more is still a tall order, but at the rate he's going right this moment, he could slash that number in half by season's end.
Oreovicz: Will Gordon's superb 2014 form continue into the future or is it an anomaly? That's the real question. Even including his three victories this year, Gordon has a total of 10 wins in the past seven years. He's not likely to drive long enough to make it at that rate, so I'll say 25 percent.
Smith: Seventy-five percent. He needs nine wins. He's not done winning yet this year. And for the record, I think we were asked this last year, too, and my percentage was far lower. I didn't believe the man could return to dominance again. His back issues reduced his passion. They just did. And I had very intelligent racers -- who know Gordon far better than I -- who told me otherwise. Ray Evernham, for one, told me not to count Gordon out yet. Damn. He was right again.