-- Our experts weigh in on four of the biggest questions in NASCAR. This week, we hit Joe Gibbs Racing, solutions for Indy and the mystery surrounding the 88 car:
Turn 1: How could Joe Gibbs Racing get this far ahead in what is supposed to be the most competitive era of NASCAR?
Ryan McGee, ESPN.com: Well, having a crazy-talented group of drivers helps, especially the one in the 18 car [Busch]. But what we're seeing is also the payoff for a decade of work by Toyota. All along they've told us they were working on a long-term vision and process, and here they are. All this being said, these things run in cycles; the edge can be lost in a hurry, especially these days. It was only a little over a year ago when we asking what was wrong at JGR.
John Oreovicz, ESPN.com: The credit goes to Toyota for creating a five-car super team and the most powerful engine in NASCAR. At Indianapolis, a leading Chevrolet driver said he believes the Toyotas have a 15-horsepower advantage right now, and when coupled with a driver lineup that doesn't really have any weaknesses and more young talent in the pipeline, the Gibbs team is in a dominant position.
Bob Pockrass, ESPN.com: Toyota. The car manufacturer appears to put more money into NASCAR per team, especially considering its engine development program. Money buys speed, and while it appears Toyota didn't get its money's worth in 2014 and for the early portion of 2015, it has gotten its money's worth since then.
Turn 2: Is it time to rethink the annual Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway? If so, what would you suggest?
McGee: You can't drop it. It's still a marquee event for teams when it comes to sponsor activation, and it's still a crown jewel in the eyes of the competitors. I say shorten it. Move it back to Saturday, run a pair of full-field shorter races and call it an homage to the Indiana short-track tradition. Make it feel way different than the Indy 500.
Oreovicz: I'd move it to the fall and make it a Chase race -- ideally a cutoff race between rounds. That would at least inject some urgency into the event and make it more worth watching or attending. To make it a more entertaining car race, I'd run the event on the IMS road course.
Pockrass: Anyone who isn't worried about the Brickyard attendance needs a shovel to get their head out of the sand. That being said, if Tony George can come back as the chairman of the race track, then anything is possible. Continuing to explore tire/aero combinations should remain a priority for Indy. Also making it a Chase race might work -- as long as the Colts aren't home that day.
Craven: This race is important to the competitors, the owners and even the identity of NASCAR. While I will agree that the racing at IMS for these cars is poor, it's still identified as a member of the big four, along with a Coke 600, Southern 500 and, of course, the Daytona 500. With the TV package that exists, I feel certain the track still makes money for the event. While the seats will never be as full as they are in May (not even close), I can't imagine the race disappears from the schedule.
Turn 3: Is there any good reason why the Xfinity and Truck series shouldn't run Lucas Oil Raceway (fondly known as IRP) at Indy?
Oreovicz: I'm among those who would like to see the Trucks and Xfinity cars back at IRP, whether in replacement or in addition to the Xfinity race at IMS. The locals loved the Xfinity/Truck event at Indy's "other" track, making it one of the summer's toughest tickets. Competitors loved it too and one great way NASCAR could reconnect with fans it has lost would be to allow itself to go "down market" to grassroots venues like LOR.
Craven: Perhaps the Xfinity race (with its TV revenue) helps justify the entire NASCAR weekend. Would IRP produce a more entertaining race? Hell yes! And for all three divisions. I can think of another half-dozen short tracks I would like to see us compete at. It still amazes me that we have only one short-track race in the 10-race Chase.
McGee: Good reason? No. They let the sponsors force their hand and it sucked a lot of the fun out of the week. They need to restore the entire USAC/Trucks/Xfinity tripleheader at IRP. Return some of that citywide festival-of-speed feel from the original Brickyard weekends and run Eldora the week before or after. Own the summer! But they won't do any of that. Big swings at the schedule don't seem to be their thing. Unless you count later start times as a big swing -- but that's a whole other discussion, isn't it?
Pockrass: Nope. It's understandable that IMS wanted an Xfinity race to try to boost the weekend ticket. The Kid Rock concert that followed Saturday appeared to have more fans, so maybe Xfinity can work just as a support event for the concert. But NASCAR should take trucks and Xfinity to IRP on the Indy 500 pole weekend in May. The racing was too good at IRP for NASCAR not to go there, and NASCAR needs to find a way to make it work.
Turn 4: If Dale Earnhardt Jr. can't go at Watkins Glen, who should get in the No. 88 car?
McGee: Yep. The guy they already have in there is pretty good.
Oreovicz: Getting back into the rhythm of road racing would be a tougher task for Gordon, but he's still the logical choice if he's willing to do it. It would be interesting to see one of the Chevrolet-affiliated IndyCar drivers get a chance, but their contracts with Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing would probably prevent the cream of the crop from running for a competing NASCAR team like Hendrick. Sam Hornish Jr. is a capable road racer and he obviously did a great job filling in for the JGR Xfinity team earlier this year, winning at Iowa.
Pockrass: Gordon would be fine if he wants to risk his back for the sake of making his 800th start. If not, former Cup rookie of the year Andy Lally knows how to wheel it on a road course. But with IndyCar coming there four weeks later, it would be cool to see an IndyCar driver in that ride. James Hinchcliffe, being from Canada, would be a neat choice for a race that attracts many from Canada. But since he's a Honda guy, it might not be able to happen. Any of the Penske stable of Chevy IndyCar drivers -- Juan Pablo Montoya, Will Power, Simon Pagenaud, Helio Castroneves or Josef Newgarden -- would be exciting to watch.