Our experts weigh in on four of the biggest questions in NASCAR this week:
Turn 1: With Watkins Glen coming up this week, what former road course winner is more likely to get a win to grab a Chase berth? Tony Stewart or Marcos Ambrose?
Ed Hinton, ESPN.com: Ambrose is probably the more logical pick, having won there two of the past three years. But I just can't let go of the notion of Smoke slipping and sliding out of his slump into one of his old-fashioned summer hot streaks on the slick tracks.
Brant James, ESPN.com: Stewart has two top-5s in the past five seasons at Watkins Glen -- including a win in 2009 and a runner-up finish in 2008. Ambrose has won twice there since 2011. The recent trend favors Ambrose, as does the fact that, a year after his devastating leg injury, three-time series champion Stewart continues to grope for the spark to ignite his season.
Ryan McGee, ESPN The Magazine: Ambrose. With each passing week, I'm beginning to believe this year just isn't happening for Stewart. And if that does end up being the case, that's OK. History says everyone has at least one mysterious WTH season. Remember the great 1992 Winston Cup title bout that gave us Alan Kulwicki's title? That happened in large part because the sport's two biggest stars, Dale Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace, were awful that year. They finished 12th and 13th in points. Neither one could ever explain it. Sometimes it just happens ... or, more accurately, it doesn't.
John Oreovicz, ESPN.com: You have to take Ambrose. He and Richard Petty Motorsports are betting the house on The Glen, and Ambrose is a two-time winner on the famous road course. Stewart is a former Glen winner, too, but this is only the second time he will test his surgically repaired right leg in more strenuous road racing conditions. A year on from the sprint car accident that prematurely ended his 2013 season, it will be interesting to see whether Smoke's physical ability measures up to his mental resolve.
Marty Smith, ESPN Insider: Ambrose. He's a two-time winner at that place but tested there anyway. That tells you all you need to know about the focus on this event as his one shot at a playoff berth. This is his lone shot to make the Chase. He knows that. Drew Blickensderfer knows that. Richard Petty Motorsports knows that. All of Australia and all the world knows that. And I dare say he'd go to whatever lengths necessary to win. And I'm convinced he will win.
Turn 2: What's more likely: the entire Hendrick Motorsports lineup in the Chase, or the entire (albeit half as big) Petty lineup?
Hinton: I doubt either is going to happen. But with Watkins Glen coming up, Marcos Ambrose is likelier to win and get in than Kasey Kahne. The Brickyard 400, which Kahne led and led before falling back at the very end, left me wondering whether he can close a deal at all this regular season.
James: That makes it Hendrick's Kasey Kahne vs. RPM's Marcos Ambrose, and that's a tough one, even given how completely underwhelming Kahne has been this season compared with his Chase-qualified teammates. Ambrose has won twice at Watkins Glen, and his team still tested there recently, underscoring the fact that RPM officials know that -- at 49 points outside the playoff boundary with five regular-season races left -- a victory is his only viable hope. Kahne, despite his malaise, is just a point behind winless Greg Biffle for the final transfer spot, and points-racing the rest of the regular season seems a more realistic route to the Chase than having to risk all, like Ambrose, for one win.
McGee: I'll say Hendrick because Kahne still has two potential paths to get in and I think the pressure of this weekend works against Ambrose. This is really a Glen-or-bust deal for RPM, but Kahne should be a legit contender at most of the remaining pre-Chase tracks, especially next weekend at Michigan. Even without a win, sitting 14th in the standings means that points alone could work in his favor. Ambrose is only three spots back, but he's on the wrong side of 16th with race winners behind him.
Oreovicz: As much as I think Ambrose will be mighty at Watkins Glen, the percentages say Kasey Kahne has a better shot of making the Swift Sixteen, through points or a win. Having both Petty cars in certainly would be popular with the fans; Ambrose is capable of winning on an oval, too.
Smith: That's one hell of a question. I do expect Ambrose to win at The Glen. He's a world-class road racer. But again, it's his lone shot. (He is really good at Bristol, too, but I don't see it happening for him there). So I'll say Hendrick. Kasey Kahne can win Bristol, Atlanta or Richmond. He has more chances than Ambrose does. I'm not sure I believe my own answer here, though. I really do think Ambrose is going to lay it down on them this weekend. #Waffle
Turn 3: What team's drop-off this season is more baffling? Joe Gibbs Racing (two wins this year after 12 in 2013) or Roush Fenway Racing?
Hinton: No-brainer here: Gibbs. We've been watching Roush Fenway on the slippery slope for years. But who would have imagined JGR -- especially Matt Kenseth's 20 team -- would have fallen so far behind on the new ride height rules, etc., after such a powerful showing last year?
James: JGR. Roush Fenway doesn't have excuses, but it has reasons for its shortcomings. It lost one of the series' best, most consistent drivers in Kenseth two years ago. Carl Edwards is soon to follow. Veteran Greg Biffle is on the backstretch of his fine career at age 44. And the adjustment to the Gen-6 car has not been as seamless as expected for an organization that so prides itself on engineering acumen. Gibbs, however, would seem to have everything in place -- including perennial title aspirants Kenseth, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch -- for a successful campaign after its blitz through the series in 2013. Where did the speed go, and why?
McGee: Roush Fenway, hands down. Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin winning more early than they have late, that's not new. And Matt Kenseth is having a more traditional Matt Kenseth type of season. But the fact that Roush Fenway, Ford's flagship team, looks so totally lost in the woods when other Ford teams have improved so much over 2013 is just baffling.
Oreovicz: Roush Fenway. Although the Gibbs Toyotas haven't been pacesetters the way they were occasionally a year ago, all three JGR drivers have contended for wins. RFR just hasn't been very competitive, period, and it surely extends beyond the partial season of uncertainty about their future driver lineup. The Penske Fords are running at the front and winning races, but Roush Fenway's engineering team seems to have missed something fundamental in adapting to the 2014 rules package.
Smith: JGR. Matt Kenseth was unbelievable last year, but this year his team hasn't made the same speed. The whole organization hasn't. It can. And I expect the teams to. If any one of those teams finds a bit more speed, it'll be very dangerous in the Chase.
Turn 4: What would be NASCAR's dream four racing for the championship at Homestead?
Hinton: Dale Earnhardt Jr., of course, to get Junior Nation and even the general public all worked up over his shot at a championship at last. Jeff Gordon because Wonder Boy, turned grand old man, has endeared himself to fans across the board by sticking around and being so competitive for so long. Brad Keselowski because he's the driver America would love to have a beer or three with. Tony Stewart with one of his ongoing shows where he barely makes it into the Chase, then goes on a rampage, a la 2011, when he won five of the 10 playoff races.
James: Jimmie Johnson: bidding for a historic seventh Sprint Cup championship with the chance to tie Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: The storyline that dwarfs all other storylines. NASCAR would become a mainstream story for its ultimate weekend.
Jeff Gordon: The veteran, four-time champion would conjure nostalgia, emotions, pro and con, and curiosity over whether he would end his storied career with a final championship. This, too, would create a mainstream interest in the series.
Kyle Larson: A new star standing against the old guard with a chance to win a championship as a rookie. A NASCAR diversity star in full bloom, a bridge -- the series would so desperately hope -- to an apathetic younger demographic.
McGee: In a perfect world, a Gordon vs. Dale Jr. vs. Jimmie vs. Stewart final four would have Brian France dancing on Daytona Beach, even if his marketing people would rather not have one lone manufacturer represented. Those are the sport's biggest names. But in a realistic world, a Gordon/Earnhardt/Keselowski/Johnson grouping would be something to hang one's hat on. Brad brings Ford, youth, beer and a little bit of bad guy to the party.
Oreovicz: 1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- The man the fans love. 2. Jimmie Johnson -- The man they love to hate. 3. Jeff Gordon -- For old times' sake. 4. Danica Patrick -- Can you imagine the hype?
Smith: 88. 24. 48. 14.