Our experts weigh in on four of the biggest questions in motorsports as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday for the opening of three races in the second round of the playoffs:
Turn 1: We spent all year wondering what effect will playoff points actually have? Do we know yet?
Ricky Craven, ESPN NASCAR analyst: The primary effect is that it gives the most productive teams during the regular season the equivalent of home-field advantage or a path of less resistance toward the next round. Martin Truex Jr. has enough playoff points to all but guarantee him entry into the third round. He's essentially racing with a mulligan. It's all a byproduct of winning races and stages during the regular season. I think the system has worked to perfection. I didn't believe drivers could race any harder, but there's clearly more urgency in the early and middle stages of these races. I like it!
Ryan McGee, ESPN.com: They certainly helped guys get out the first round. Right, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.? I think we'll learn more with the passing of each playoff round. If more drivers run badly but continue to advance (Stenhouse hasn't scored a top-10 since winning Daytona on July 1) then we'll either have people screaming "This isn't fair!" or "The regular season finally means something!" Oh, who am I kidding? They'll scream both. Especially if it ends up boosting someone into the final four at Homestead.
Bob Pockrass, ESPN.com: Not totally. They obviously made a difference with Stenhouse. Having won two races, he could finish worse in the first-round races than Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon and still beat them. The big impact will be whether anyone advances from the third round to the championship thanks to them.
Matt Willis, ESPN Stats & Information: We haven't seen it get fully used yet, but so far, the playoff points have served more as a safety net. If we see Truex, Kyle Busch or Kyle Larson wreck at Talladega and still not be at risk to miss the next playoff round we may know more. With Truex and Busch winning the three Round of 16 races, we haven't seen it fully in effect yet, but Larson and Brad Keselowski had already clinched their spots entering last week's race at Dover, thanks largely to their playoff points.
Turn 2: Charlotte's playoff race is a Sunday day race. Better than a Saturday night race?
Craven: That's a tough question. As nice as the weather has been here in Charlotte, a Saturday night race would be complementary. And ordinarily I wouldn't think going head to head against the NFL ever to be favorable. There has to be a financial reason or value for them to have made the swap. From a team's perspective I think most drivers and team members would have welcomed a Sunday off.
McGee: Yes. The timing is better in the market by not trying to compete with prime-time college football. But the real benefit is that, as Dale Earnhardt. Jr. tried to tell everyone the last time a night event was moved to day because of weather, the racing is just better at Charlotte in the daytime. That's weird to say about the place that invented speedway night racing, but it's totally true.
Pockrass: As far as slick conditions and racing, yes, as well as a network television audience for the playoffs.
Willis: I don't think so, for this reason alone. The other nine playoff races are on Sundays. I like some variety in my schedule, and forcing me to have one eye on the NFL and one eye on NASCAR on Sunday afternoons really maximizes the use of my eyes. What about a Sunday night race? Or I'll still go to battle over the appeal of trying weeknight races. Who's coming with me?
Turn 3: Which of the winless playoffs drivers has the best chance to win in this next playoffs round, which is Charlotte, Talladega and Kansas? Will an outsider break in?
Craven: I am eager to watch Chase Elliott as he attempts to rebound mentally from a Dover loss. I have 100 percent confidence, and I believe he wins one of the next three races.
McGee: It'd be crazy not to think that Stenhouse can crash the party at Talladega. In fact, he's counting on it. He's 2-for-3 at plate tracks this year and might have been able to make some noise in the Daytona 500 had he not gotten caught up in a crash.
Pockrass: Elliott. He has been the closest among the winless. But don't expect an outsider to break in.
Willis: Truex, and the Toyota drivers as a whole, have been dominant on the 1.5-mile tracks this season, so I'm penciling in those two races to that team of drivers. But that includes Matt Kenseth, who's working on eight top-10s in his last 11 races. Despite his recent struggle in plate races, he's still a threat to run up front and lead a lot of laps there. Stenhouse will be a popular pick after winning two of three restrictor-plate races this season. But since they started using plates in 1988, only Dale Earnhardt in 1990 has won three of the four in a season.
Turn 4: Will Chase Elliott have trouble rebounding from losing Dover?
Craven: No. I'll explain why later in the week.
McGee: He should be used to heartbreak by now, right?
Pockrass: Nope. Elliott can put frustrations behind him, and the team has to focus on getting out of the second round, not worrying about what could have been in the first.
Willis: Dover was the third race in Elliott's Cup career where he's led 100-plus laps. In the following race, he's finished 31st and 12th. So that would seem to indicate there's a little hangover. It helps we're going to Charlotte. Although he wrecked out there earlier this year, in the 1.5-mile track races after that, he finished third at Kentucky and second at Chicago.