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Debate: NASCAR's burning questions

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. Conversation (4:41)

Two-time Daytona 500 champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. sits down with Hannah Storm to reflect on his win and on a feat his father was never able to accomplish. (4:41)

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

Turn 1: Dale Earnhardt Jr. ended a long winless streak at Daytona. Who will be the next driver to break a drought that goes back a season or more to get a Cup win?

Ed Hinton, ESPN.com: Kurt Busch. I know, I know -- we expected him to break out last season as he came to the brink several times, but he was with a one-car team and his pit crew just wasn't first rate all the time. Now with the much-stronger Stewart-Haas team, he ran up front early in the Daytona 500 Sunday night, and even led 15 laps. He's as good on unrestricted tracks as plate tracks. Here's a guy who has been ready to win again for more than a year. Now he has the team to put a winning car underneath him, and won't have to overdrive to challenge.

Brant James, ESPN: Clint Bowyer. Second in the final driver standings in 2012 after winning three races, the Michael Waltrip Racing driver went winless in a 2013 follow-up that will be forever shrouded in the Richmond race-manipulation scandal that tainted the Chase for the Sprint Cup. He finished seventh in the standings despite fading in the playoffs. Bowyer seems to always be in the hunt, leads laps and produces 10 top-5s, at least in each of the past two seasons. He'll finish one off, soon.

Ryan McGee, ESPN The Magazine: Kurt Busch. I knew what he'd done at Phoenix and Furniture Row was impressive, but I don't think I fully realized how close he came to winning as many races as he did until we started breaking down his 2012-13 loop data stats for the story we have in the current issue of ESPN The Magazine. Once he breaks through, he might suddenly win races in a bunch.

John Oreovicz, ESPN.com: Kurt Busch, whose last win came at Dover in October 2011. He should fit in quickly at Stewart-Haas Racing, and he has superior equipment underneath him. Another good bet is Marcos Ambrose (last win: Watkins Glen, August 2012), an obvious road-course favorite but certainly capable of putting together an oval victory as well.

Turn 2: Rate the racing at Sunday's Daytona 500 on a scale of one to 10 and tell us why you gave it that grade.

Hinton: A 9.95. I had expected the field to line up single file and log laps until the very end. But, especially after the rain delay, they logged laps by running double-file consistently, sometimes three-wide, and shuffling around a lot. They went long stretches without cautions but relentlessly kept the show on for fans. They raced the whole time, and of course there could be no more dramatic show than Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning this race after a decade of drought -- except for the drama of his outpouring of emotion afterward.

James: Seven. Drivers seemingly marked time knowing a rain delay was coming. They picked up the pace getting to the halfway point when the race became official, and they went full-bore when informed the potential for more race-halting rain was in the area. Watching the race while listening to team audio and following weather updates on Twitter heightened the anticipation for media and fans alike. Perhaps crew chiefs should tell their drivers rain is inbound every week, blue skies or gray.

McGee: Ten. Other than being less wet, I'm not sure what else you could have wanted. Once the race restarted it was hammer down the entire time, and on top of that there also was a bunch of pit strategy mixed. Not enough to turn it into a nerdfest, but enough to keep us all on our toes. It's funny, we spend all this time trying to figure out how to "fix the racing," but looming precipitation seems to always do the trick, doesn't it?

Oreovicz: Nine. Not too much excitement before the rain delay, but it was clean and green for the most part after the prime-time restart. The threat of additional rain created a race within a race to the 100-lap mark, and the intensity never let up. There was lots of quality two- and three-wide racing and the few accidents were moderate rather than big. A variety of challengers emerged at the end, but there's no doubt that the fastest car and driver won.

Turn 3: We know who had the best Daytona 500, but who had the worst? Tell us why.

Hinton: Kyle Larson, who never had a chance. "I got into the wall on Lap 1, blew a right rear tire and spun, so we had a rough start from the go of it," he said. That made two mishaps in the first 22 laps, but he struggled on from there, only to be nudged by Austin Dillon with 39 laps left and get taken out in the ensuing 10-car pileup.

James: Martin Truex Jr. He qualified second in his first race for Furniture Row Racing, but that No. 78 Chevrolet was ruined in his 150-mile qualifying race in a wreck started when Jimmie Johnson ran out of fuel. With his crew unable to repair the car in time, Truex started in the back of the Daytona 500 and was 15th when his engine expired after just 30 laps. The first driver out of the race, maybe he at least was the first back to North Carolina and able to escape the 6-hour, 22-minute rain delay that his comrades had to endure. It was not the start Truex wanted in his first weekend replacing Kurt Busch, who took the one-car team to the Chase last year before departing for Stewart-Haas Racing.

McGee: There were three guys looking to get some momentum going after three bizarre second halves of 2013 -- Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. -- and all three flopped out Sunday. Of those three, I think Truex had more to lose with a bad start. And he finished dead last. That's never good.

Oreovicz: Danica Patrick. At a track where she shone last year, her week was bad from start to finish -- the Ricky Stenhouse Jr. crash in the Sprint Unlimited, the whole Richard Petty business (she handled it really well, as expected), and finally, a truly nasty crash in the Daytona 500. That bell-ringing impact alone should convince NASCAR to mandate the SAFER barrier on all oval track walls.

Turn 4: It's off to Phoenix this week, where the season 'really' starts, as they say. Who is your pick to win?

Hinton: Kevin Harvick has won two of the past three there, and the rules aren't that different from the combination that has carried him on the flat mile. A lot depends on whether the guys with his new team, Stewart-Haas, can hit the setup as precisely as his old Richard Childress team did. Carl Edwards, winner at Phoenix last spring, should be strong again.

James: Jimmie Johnson. A four-time winner -- granted, before the 1-mile facility was configured and repaved -- Johnson has six top-5s in his past eight races there and was runner-up last spring. One race into the season, he seems overdue.

McGee: I always like Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin at PIR. But I'm gonna keep riding the 88 horse. Between Daytona, Phoenix and Bristol, Dale Earnhardt Jr. could win three of the season's first four races. Then again, he also could start another marathon winless streak ...

Oreovicz: Jimmie Johnson. Now that his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Jr. is in the Chase, the six-time Sprint Cup champ might as well end the suspense and lock himself in early. I'll be curious to see how Matt Kenseth and the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team respond after the poor run at Phoenix last November that pretty much doomed their championship hopes.