Our experts weigh in on four of the biggest questions in NASCAR as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series gears up for Sunday's race at Martinsville (Virginia) Speedway:
Turn 1: Kyle Larson mentioned he'd "love to run the Indy 500 at least once," however team co-owner Felix Sabates says there's "no need for [Larson] to go take a risk of hurting himself just for one race." Should the team let Larson run the "double?"
Ricky Craven, ESPN NASCAR analyst: It would be intriguing for all of us. Kyle Larson in a Chip Ganassi-prepared Indy 500 entry -- let's hope it happens. However, I have to agree with Felix because at this point this risk outweighs the reward. Larson should have plenty of time to scratch the May race off his bucket list, but the priority now has to be a Cup title and anything other than NASCAR at this point should be considered a distraction for the young driver.
Ryan McGee, ESPN.com: All due respect to Felix, but this wouldn't be his call. The guy who has his name in a much larger font size in the team logo, aka the guy who has won the Indy 500 four times, would be the man to make this decision. And if anyone knows Chip Ganassi then they know he will do whatever it takes to win Indy over all else, and if he believes this kid gives him a shot, then he will give him that shot. I think they will absolutely give this a little more time and take advantage of Larson's finally-arrived momentum. But I also absolutely think he'll race at Indy sooner than later. The logistics of double-dipping would be a cake walk for Larson. Honestly, it would feel more normal to him than a strictly stock car schedule.
Bob Pockrass, ESPN.com: Yes. But not this year. The best way to do the double is to have some IndyCar experience. Do a deal with a sponsor that allows Larson to drive two or three IndyCar races before the 500 to get familiar with the cars, race procedures and the team. With the new IndyCar bodies coming for next season, it might make more sense to eye 2019 with a couple of races in 2018 to get prepared.
Matt Willis, ESPN Stats & Info: Absolutely. The Indianapolis 500 is a special race, and driving a Ganassi-powered car, Larson could be capable of winning it. With Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards all retiring from NASCAR, the sport is in an interesting time of building up new stars. Larson winning (or battling for the win), could put him in superstar status. While open-wheel cars are more dangerous than stock cars, racers gotta race.
Turn 2: Will Clint Bowyer win a race this year? And if so, by when?
Craven: Bowyer went a long way toward returning to Victory Lane with his performance last week. As far as when, it's never that obvious, and it's likely the team will need several top-5 finishes before breaking through. The key is to be fast every week, the way his teammate Kevin Harvick has performed since arriving at Stewart-Haas. If you're fast, it's just a matter of when and not if.
McGee: Yes. I kind of have my eye on Richmond. He's won there twice before and holy geez, to win at the place where his career came completely off the rails? That would be some nice circle-closing symmetry wouldn't it?
Pockrass: Yes. Richmond. He has to win at Richmond, right? The storyline would be too good for him not to win there.
Willis: It's so hard to win a race in the Cup series, there are so many cars/drivers/teams capable of victory, but a Bowyer victory seems on the way. One of his teammates (Kurt Busch) has already won this year, and another (Kevin Harvick) seems like he's in the mix every week. Now the question is, where? Bowyer has eight career wins, six of them have come at New Hampshire, Richmond and Talladega. Want me to be more specific? How about July 16 at New Hampshire?
Turn 3: The winner at Martinsville gets a grandfather clock. How many clocks at your home actually have hands and are not digital?
Craven: It sits in a prominent place at my home, requires me to wind it approximately every 10 days, and each time it chimes ... it reminds me of the last-lap battle I had with Dale Jarrett in 2001 to earn it. "I've been on time ever since that win."
McGee: I have three. The first is an old baseball clock I found in a junktique store and hangs in my man cave. The second is in the workshop in my garage, a Terry Labonte Kellogg's clock that makes engine sounds at the top of the hour. The third is a grandfather clock in the foyer, though it hasn't worked in a few years. When our daughter was a baby we flicked the little "silent" switch to keep from waking her up and it hasn't worked right ever since. I need to find out who Richard Petty hires to maintain his 15 Martinsville clocks and have them stop by my house.
Pockrass: One. An alarm clock on a nightstand. I hate setting it because I always wonder if I am setting it just right.
Willis: I think my cell phone has a display option where it displays as an old-school clock. Other than that, I'm all digital. Although if I ever win a race at Martinsville, or if anybody wants to gift me a nice grandfather clock, I'm flexible.
Turn 4: Sunday's race at Martinsville will be the first short track Cup event this season. What do we need to look out for in terms of driver strategy in this new playoff format?
Craven: How the stage races unfold could lead us down that path, but in the end I expect the race to be authentic short track Martinsville entertainment. Manage your tires, brakes, track position and temper. There's a big emphasis on "temper."
McGee: I've said all along that this was the place where I really wanted to see what kind of changes we might see in strategy due to stage racing, but perhaps not so much from the drivers as from the crew chiefs. Talking to drivers this week there are those who honestly seem a little surprised at how crucial these stage wins have become. So the hope is that mentality might take over as stages are coming to a close and guys make dashes with 10 laps to go like they do at the end of races. The big question at Martinsville then becomes what kind of effect will that have when there are 10 laps remaining in the race. Is a guy going to burn his brakes off to win stage two but at the cost of not having those brakes on lap 500?
Pockrass: The first two segments, at 130 laps apiece, mean drivers won't have to stop for fuel. A driver can't pit for tires without losing a lap, so it's hard to envision pitting during the segments for tires under green. The only strategy might come if a caution comes out late in a stage and a driver opts for track position instead of tires.
Willis: We could very well see an ending like we saw at Phoenix. In a 500-lap race, the first battle is just to stay on the lead lap. If you can do that, the number of cautions at the track bring pit strategy into play. Thirty-two of the last 34 races at the track have had double-digit cautions. So if you can avoid the pitfalls and survive to the end, I expect to see tire and fuel strategy come into play.