NASCAR points observations through eight races

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It took another post-Green-White-Checkered pass to pull it off, but Kevin Harvick got around Dale Earnhardt Jr. and earned his second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory of the season Saturday night in Darlington. So ends the string of different winners in as many races, but it was a needed result for Harvick after a string of bad luck in the races since his Phoenix win, back in February.

Here’s the rest of where things stand, points-wise, after the eighth regular season race of 2014:

MORE THAN HALF OF THE 16 ALREADY SEEM SET

Your seven race winners – Earnhardt Jr., Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, and Joey Logano – plus points leaders Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth have been the class of the field thus far. Harvick is the lowest ranked driver in that group in P22 in the standings, but he’ll be fine going forward. Jimmie Johnson, P5 in points, is going to get his first win soon as well.

THE NEXT TIER OF EIGHT FROM P9-16 LOOK GOOD, NOT GREAT

From Ryan Newman in ninth down to Clint Bowyer in 16th, this group of eight drivers are running well but haven’t necessarily gotten the ultimate finish needed yet for their seasons. Other than Kyle Larson’s near win at Auto Club Speedway a few weeks ago, none of the eight in this group has challenged for a win.

SOME COMBO OF LUCK OR PERFORMANCE TURNAROUND NEEDED

Jamie McMurray (P20), Kasey Kahne (P23) and Martin Truex Jr. (P28) are probably the biggest names in this batch without a win or major result to speak of. McMurray ran well earlier this year as he and new crew chief Keith Rodden gelled, but he’s been outside the top 15 the last three races. Truex has only one top 15 finish all season.

POINTS: Through 8 of 26 races.

Lewis Hamilton comes home to Mercedes factory after fourth title

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On Monday, the Formula 1 schedule finally allowed teams to be in Europe before heading to Abu Dhabi for this weekend’s season finale.

And as such, that provided a window for now four-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton to return to the Mercedes AMG Petronas factories in Brackley and Brixworth to be celebrated for taking the driver’s title, as Hamilton an Valtteri Bottas delivered Mercedes its fourth straight constructor’s title.

Hamilton was at Brixworth, the home of Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains (HPP) and its highly successful Mercedes-Benz Power Units first before heading to Brackley, where he was welcomed with a “guard of honor” as the entire team came out to greet him.

The champion was overwhelmed at the response and the welcome.

“This a very emotional day. I was not expecting this, thanks everyone for the warm welcome,” he said. “Today is something that I will never forget, turning up at the front gate of the factory and seeing everyone out on the street to welcome me – I’m blown away.

“This has been an incredible year, it’s been an incredible journey together. There’s a huge amount of respect and appreciation I have for everyone. I’ve been in the sport for a long time now, but to see the work ethic in Brixworth and Brackley really inspires me. Every time I come around, I see everyone operating at 100%, which encourages me to bring my best performance.

“Thank you all for helping me achieve my dreams, it would not have been possible without you. This is the best championship year, because we’ve been fighting another team and because we’ve had the difficulties and challenges we’ve had – that just makes it so much greater.”

A social roundup of images and videos are below, all via Hamilton and the Mercedes team on social media.