Our experts weigh in on four of the biggest questions in NASCAR:
Turn 1: Who is in bigger trouble after three races, Richard Childress Racing, Roush Fenway Racing or Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates?
Ricky Craven, ESPN NASCAR analyst: If you study the catalyst for each organization going forward -- Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson -- it's Larson who concerns me most, perhaps because I think he's a great prospect. I said low downforce would favor some, expose others. I'm still all-in on all three drivers, but concerned for Larson because young drivers are often the most fragile of athletes. Pressure can be diminished only through performance.
Ryan McGee, ESPN.com: Ryan Newman will do what Newman does. So will Paul Menard. When you add those to Austin Dillon, who could easily have three top 10s right now, RCR feels OK to go. I also feel confident that Larson will do what we think he's going to do and like these new aero rules. That brings us to RFR, and I feel like I've been beating up on these guys a lot of late, but they have the most ground to make up. Until they can prove that they've dug out of that hole over the long haul, it's hard to buy in yet.
John Oreovicz, ESPN.com: Austin Dillon has looked good for Childress, running 11th or better in all three races with a solid fifth place at Las Vegas, and Ricky Stenhouse and the No. 17 team at Roush Fenway seem to have taken a step forward. That leaves Ganassi, where Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson aren't looking like Chase material early in the season.
Bob Pockrass, ESPN.com: None of them appear in huge trouble yet, although if any, it would have to be the Roush Fenway stable. They showed promise in qualifying at Atlanta, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. sits well at 11th in the standings. Trevor Bayne also has shown signs of improvement, but Greg Biffle has to be the big worry at 21st in points after three races.
Marty Smith, ESPN: It's Week 4, in a format that promotes a single victory as a playoff spot. No one is in trouble yet.
Turn 2: What do you think of the NASCAR Goes West concept of doing three West Coast races -- Las Vegas, Phoenix and Fontana -- in a row?
Craven: Great concept. The weather should work in everyone's favor, teams benefit from hitting the stretch in sequence while the season is young and employees are fresh. It's the right place, right time.
McGee: I like it. Now, granted, I'm not a hauler driver or a car chief or anyone who has to get the equipment turned around or be away from their family for a month, but I like it.
Oreovicz: I like it. They're all far enough apart so that they don't steal ticket sales from each other, and it makes it easier for those who are able to remain in the West to adapt to the Pacific time zone. It makes sense from a team logistical standpoint, and it gives well-heeled fans the opportunity to put together a heck of a road trip. But it's hard on those who have to fly back and forth to Charlotte all three weekends.
Pockrass: It's great for the industry, but it's hard to be convinced that it is good for fans. Spreading out the races would allow fans more time between the races, making it easier to do more trips through the year. Asking someone to give up three weeks in a row to attend races just doesn't seem as feasible as three trips over five or six weeks. It also impacts someone on a long business trip or someone dealing with a family crisis to miss potentially more races than they would if the races were spread out.
Smith: It's smart in the name of cohesion and marketing, building a brand for those tracks. And it might save a few logistics bucks here and there. Some organizations keep their crew guys out west the whole time, some for a portion, rather than crisscrossing the country, back and forth, for the first several weeks of the season, like we did in the past. Most importantly: It gives corporate sponsors exposure in three critical markets.
Turn 3: Do you want to adjust any of your preseason predictions after what you've seen in the first three races of the season?
Craven: No. Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards will be among those who prevail with this reduced-downforce package. I competed against all but Edwards. I've experienced and understand the vulnerabilities of less downforce and these three are best-equipped to capitalize -- I'm confident of this. The risk for me is Carl, because I didn't share the track with him. So I'm basing my opinion on what I've seen versus what I experienced, but I refuse to surrender my confidence in him.
Oreovicz: Not so far. Nobody has sprung any big surprises. It's the usual suspects, slipping and sliding around a lot more.
Pockrass: No. Except for Tony Stewart making the Chase in some predictions I made in January. Last year at this time, the four drivers in the championship hunt at Homestead were first (Kevin Harvick), fourth (Martin Truex Jr.), 30th (Jeff Gordon) and Kyle Busch, who had no points. Drivers outside the top 16 who made the Chase were Carl Edwards (23rd), Jamie McMurray (25th), Gordon (30th), Kurt Busch (no points) and Kyle Busch (no points). Those who missed the Chase who were top 16 after three races: AJ Allmendinger (fifth), Kasey Kahne (sixth), Casey Mears (ninth), Greg Biffle (11th) and Aric Almirola (15th). So if your fave driver is 30th, don't worry. Yet.
Smith: Let's look at the report card: Gibbs won Daytona. Hendrick won Atlanta. Penske won Vegas. Nope.
Turn 4: Who wins the most races for Team Penske this year, Brad Keselowski or Joey Logano, and, bringing in IndyCar since the season starts Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET, ABC), Juan Pablo Montoya or Will Power?
Craven: With all due respect to Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano should win more.
McGee: It feels like a BK kind of year to me. Whatever was missing last season seems to be repaired. Also, he's a guy who operates best with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. In December, I received the Penske Racing holiday card. They had the entire group posed in front of the shop. Logano was up front with his Daytona 500 trophy and Keselowski was just one of the dudes in the background. My immediate reaction was, "Oh yeah, I think I see a chip sitting on his shoulder." Over with the roofless cars, Power will win the most races, but Montoya will win the two that matter most -- the Indy 500 (again) and the IndyCar championship (not again, but probably should be again).
Oreovicz: The Penske NASCAR battle is going to be a good one. Keselowski is on the board first, but I think over the course of the season, Logano will prevail 5-4. Will Power gets the nod in IndyCar, also with four wins. But I'd call Montoya the early favorite to win the Indianapolis 500.
Pockrass: Keselowski and Power. Both will rebound from one-win seasons in 2015 to win several races in 2016.
Smith: Logano had a near-miss year in 2015. I expect this to be a big year for him.
The Dogleg: With Brian France telling The Associated Press he's had to have "conversations with sponsors" over his endorsement of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump -- France maintains it was a personal endorsement, not NASCAR's -- what message did France's endorsement send to current sponsors and potential sponsors?
Craven: I was stopped in my tracks. When you're leading a company that employs hundreds, leading a company that attracts among the largest groups of customers of any sport, in any country, why would you risk offending at least half of them? I've always been thankful to those who supported me, helped me experience such a wonderful life. As such, I've never entered political discussions because It's simply not necessary, it's not a healthy practice. Power and influence granted to you by years and years of customer loyalty should never be leveraged politically. Never! Just vote.
McGee: The timing of it was simply tone-deaf, on multiple levels. First, to think that his appearance with Trump would be viewed as a personal endorsement, that everyone was supposed to suddenly separate his face and name from the NASCAR brand ... there's no way he really believed that, right? That the headlines or even just the photo captions that evening were going to read "Brian France" and not "NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France," right? Trump certainly hasn't seen that distinction. Second, in talking to employees at NASCAR, it's very obvious that most had no idea this was coming before it happened. It's incredible to me that they wouldn't have been given a heads up, especially the people who are charged with shopping and selling for corporate dollars, and most certainly the sponsors who have spent those dollars. I understand that a member of the France family endorsing a political candidate is nothing new. But this is a different age than when Big Bill and Bill Junior were in charge. There is quite literally way more on the line, as in billions more. The timing of taking the stage with a candidate -- any candidate, no matter the name or political party -- while that candidate is quite literally sharing headlines with a man who has been a longtime symbol of intolerance ... it's just, well, intolerable. Certainly to the people writing the checks to have their logos placed alongside the NASCAR logo as a series title sponsor. Forget politics. This isn't about politics. This is about business. This was a bad, bad business move at a time when the sport is already walking a very thin sheet of sponsorship ice.
Oreovicz: People sometimes joke about Brian France being an absentee commissioner, and this is one occasion where NASCAR would have benefited from him remaining in the shadows. The message is that France demonstrated incredibly poor judgment by making such a public endorsement, whether it was personal or as the face and mouthpiece of NASCAR. In the current political climate in America, it could almost be considered reckless behavior. Corporate sponsors don't like to be involved in controversy, and with this endorsement, France created a controversy that will stick to him and to NASCAR well beyond November, and no matter who is elected president. With the title sponsorship of the Cup Series on the open market, France's actions could ultimately cost NASCAR tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars.
Pockrass: France sent the message that he is a tone-deaf leader. Speaking at a rally for any candidate -- different than just giving money to a candidate who might be a friend or a longtime ally -- isn't wise for the leader of a sport fueled by corporate dollars. The fact that NASCAR moved a banquet from a Trump resort last year is a sign NASCAR knows some businesses and sponsors want nothing to do with him. And yet France still got up and spoke at a Trump rally. He not only possibly offended potential sponsors who disagree with Trump's policies, just as he would have done if he spoke in favor Hilary Clinton, but he also sent the message to sponsors that they support a sport with a myopic leader when it comes to his decisions and how they can impact industry.
Smith: That he's tone-deaf. He can endorse whomever he wants -- that's his right as an American citizen. But as the leader of a private company whose lifeblood is corporate dollars, it's a puzzling decision to endorse anyone. Why didn't Michael Jordan ever endorse anyone during his playing days? Because Republicans and Democrats alike buy basketball shoes. And in a time when NASCAR is losing Sprint and feverishly seeking a nine-figure main entitlement sponsor, it was a puzzling decision to segregate himself from any potential partners, demographics or relationships.