NASCAR points observations through seven races

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The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series action from Texas Motor Speedway was delayed a day, but our points analysis afterwards isn’t. Here’s the latest rundown on where things stand as now seven of 26 regular season races are in the books.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN

There’s any number of seven-related puns we could have used here, but the winners thus far get the magnificent tag. Team Penske’s Joey Logano has gotten off to a fast start thus far, particularly at Phoenix and Las Vegas, and his Texas run was one of his best performances yet in Sprint Cup. It took a G-W-C and a last lap pass of Jeff Gordon to it, but the right guy won Sunday at TMS to make it seven winners in seven races.

Logano joins a list that also includes Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, Kyle and Kurt Busch. Assuming there are more winners, it might not necessarily be a guarantee that one win gets you in to this year’s Chase.

There were 13 winners in the first 26 races last year, and that number seems likely to get hit again, if not exceeded, in 2014.

THE NEXT LIKELY ROUND OF WINNERS

Gordon and Matt Kenseth are 1-2 in the points – for Gordon, it’s something he hasn’t experienced much of the last few years. But a win would be sweet, even though the points and results have been flowing ever so nicely to get the year going.

It’s the same story for Jimmie Johnson, who fell two spots to seventh in points after a 25th-place result Monday but one that could have been worse after getting caught up in teammate Dale Jr.’s crash.

RUNNING NEARLY WELL ENOUGH TO WIN

P9-15 – Brian Vickers, Paul Menard, Ryan Newman, rookie Austin Dillon, Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart and rookie Kyle Larson – have posted some impressive drives over the last couple weeks and it continued in Texas. Vickers and Larson, in particular, were the standouts on Monday.

NEXT LEVEL CHALLENGERS

Those from P16 on back needing a slight performance boost or a bit of luck to enter possible win contention include Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer in P16 and 17, although “the Biff” had one of his strongest runs of 2014 Monday in Texas, Kasey Kahne in P19, Jamie McMurray in P21 and the luckless Martin Truex Jr. in P27. These are all quality drivers who haven’t yet had that one big race in 2014 to challenge for a win.

POINTS: Through 7 of 26 regular season races.

PAST WEEKS: Martinsville (Race 6), Fontana (5), Bristol (4), Las Vegas (3)

F1 2017 driver review: Nico Hulkenberg

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Nico Hulkenberg

Team: Renault
Car No.: 27
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P6 (Spain, Great Britain, Belgium, Abu Dhabi)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 43
Championship Position: 10th

Expectations were hard to peg for Renault heading into its second full season back in F1 with a factory team, but Nico Hulkenberg was surely expected to be the man spearheading its charge.

With teammate Jolyon Palmer severely underperforming, Hulkenberg did exactly that, bringing home all but 14 of the team’s points in the final standings. However, consistency was never something he truly found.

Many of Renault’s issues were down to reliability issues, sidelining Hulkenberg for six races – four coming in a five-race stint from Singapore to Mexico – yet he only scored points in consecutive races on three occasions.

When Hulkenberg and Renault were on form, they proved to be a potent combination, often topping the midfield fight and even looking faster than Force India come the end of the season. His run to sixth at the final race in Abu Dhabi was crucial for the constructors’ championship as Renault jumped Toro Rosso, securing an extra slice of prize money in the process.

But for a driver who was so often tipped as being a future star in F1, Hulkenberg still has a lot to prove. Renault is set to offer a good platform for the German moving forward with factory support, yet if he cannot beat new teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. through 2018, concerns will surely be raised.

Season High: Charging to sixth in Abu Dhabi despite a penalty.

Season Low: A tough run to 16th in Malaysia.