Our experts weigh in on four of the biggest questions in NASCAR this week:
Turn 1: Did NASCAR make the right call on Brad Keselowski's restart penalty?
Ricky Craven, ESPN NASCAR analyst: No. It was the wrong decision to black-flag the leader for gaining nothing. Restarts in the past few years have become a flavorful, entertaining component of NASCAR racing. I had no problem with not black-flagging Jeff Gordon the week before ... until Brad got punished for doing much, much less.
Ryan McGee, ESPN.com: In Richard Buck's words, it was a ball-and-strike call from Race Control. And by the letter of the law, it was the right call. But ultimately, it's not really a penalty unless there was intent or an advantage gained. I don't think there was any blatant intent, even Greg Biffle said that. And there was certainly no advantage gained. But this is like pit-road speeding used to be. Guys complained and complained about the way it was policed, it received more attention and received more rules-writing ... and well, be careful what you wish for, fellas!
John Oreovicz, ESPN.com: No. I've watched the replays many times, and while the TV announcers told me Greg Biffle was holding control car speed and NASCAR believes Keselowski was controlling the start, my eyes tell me differently. Look at the way the outside lane accordioned up behind Biffle, with Kurt Busch actually hitting him. The bottom line is that it looks a lot more like the No. 16 slowed unexpectedly, whether through wheelspin or gamesmanship. Tricking your rival has been part of the restart game long before NASCAR began examining things under a microscope. I don't think this violation was blatant enough to warrant calling.
Bob Pockrass, ESPN.com: It might have been the right call but it certainly was the wrong call. Huh? Let me explain: If a driver doesn't advance his position, it seems strange to call a penalty that he jumped the restart. Technically, NASCAR may have been right (it is difficult from the replays we saw to determine that he truly jumped the restart), but the penalty certainly didn't seem to fit the crime. The perception is that NASCAR is being heavy-handed and that adds to the confusion, ultimately hurting NACAR's credibility. This at the very least shows that NASCAR should adopt a rule similar to its Daytona/Talladega yellow-line rule that if a driver gives back any position gained with an illegal restart, there is no penalty.
Turn 2: What is your reaction to Tony Stewart's retirement announcement?
Craven: I'm not surprised. Poor performance for an extended period of time has a debilitating affect on people, drivers in particular. In other words, the slower you go, the harder you seem to work, and get less for it. As Tony said, it's time. Tony has had a tremendous Sprint Cup series career.
McGee: It's time. And as I wrote in my column on Wednesday, the smile he wore throughout the news conference and the fact that he was so happy and so visibly relieved to get it out there, anyone who saw that should have no argument about his decision. That was a man who is genuinely excited to get on with the next chapter.
Oreovicz: Mostly sadness, because I see a racer whose spirit was broken by racing in a number of ways over the past couple of years. Stewart can say that the events of the past 24 months didn't play into his decision, but a man can't experience all that he has been through without emerging profoundly affected. My hope is that by stepping away from the pressure of being a full-time Sprint Cup Series driver and focusing on his many other roles, Stewart can rediscover the joy that racing brought him for so many years before the tragic events that colored the later years of his career.
Pockrass: Stewart wants to return to his first love, what he considers real racing and not an engineering exercise. He wants to race when he wants, where he wants, in what he wants. My reaction is he can't wait for 2017 when he can be a racer, not a race-car driver.
Turn 3: Is having big-name drivers on tap for elimination this early in the Chase a good thing for NASCAR?
Craven: It certainly brings focus, attention and urgency to the next event. That's a great thing. But having Kevin Harvick in the final round as the driver to beat -- being the defending champ -- is the most valuable scenario of all.
McGee: Yes. I feel the same way about this that I do about keeping the College Football Playoff at four teams. For there to be drama, someone has to lose. Someone has to be left out. These arguments of "well, he did such-and-such during the regular season, so it isn't fair" drive me a little crazy. It's hard. It's supposed to be hard. This is the postseason. We see teams in other sports post the best regular-season record and then stumble in the early round of their playoffs all the time. That's how a postseason works.
Oreovicz: It is this week, but it might not be in mid-November if it's (no disrespect) a final four of Paul Menard, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman and Jamie McMurray. We're 1.1 years into the current elimination format of the Chase, and from a publicity standpoint, the system has worked to perfection for NASCAR. However artificially contrived it is, people are constantly talking about the championship every week. The format has the potential to create a flop, but for the time being, NASCAR officials must be ready to do Carl Edwards-style backflips of joy.
Pockrass: No, but NASCAR better get used to it. This is the way this Chase is designed. It gives 16 drivers a somewhat legitimate chance to win the title, the regular season be damned. It will be interesting to see the reaction of fans if the big-name drivers don't advance, especially the big-name drivers who have had big-time seasons but a bad race or two.
Turn 4: Should the Xfinity Series run more stand-alone races to showcase the drivers in that circuit?
Craven: Yes. Having more stand-alone races helps create more identity for the series, and gives Xfinity series drivers a healthier platform to compete for the title. I also believe it would make the combo events (they would have fewer) more celebrated.
McGee: Yes. Wait, let me rephrase that: YES. And they need to be stand-alones that are so far away from the Cup races that a plane full of Cup guys can't just jet over. Back in the day, when the drivers in that series had their own identities, the series would run companion events through spring, split off for the summer, and rejoin later in the fall. That's how it should be now. And they should race in markets that don't currently have a NASCAR national series event. That was the original mission of the Truck Series when it was started 20 years ago. Smaller tracks in smaller markets = the biggest show in town. When they go back to a Cup track for stand-alones people just don't show up.
Oreovicz: Like any idea, this one has good and bad points. It would be beneficial to showcase these drivers as stars, but they certainly aren't going to feel that way if they are racing in front of empty grandstands in huge facilities. That's why stand-alone races at smaller ovals such as Iowa Speedway and (please bring it back!) Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis make so much sense, because they draw decent crowds and make the Xfinity Series look like a big-time event. The road races (Mid-Ohio, Road America, Montreal) are also successful in that regard. So my answer is yes, making sure the right markets are identified.
Pockrass: Stand-alone events don't showcase drivers in that series. Xfinity regulars outshining the Cup drivers showcases their talents. When Chase Elliott won at Texas and Darlington last year, that was a true showcase of what he can do in a race car. The key is the ability of the non-Cup teams (other than JR Motorsports) to be able to run in the top-10.