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The Good, Bad and Ugly: How the first quarter of 2014 Sprint Cup season has played out

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One quarter down, three quarters to go.

No, we’re not talking about the NFL. Rather, Saturday’s Toyota Owners 400 NASCAR race at Richmond International Raceway marked the end of the first quarter of the 36-race Sprint Cup Series.

With 17 races left for drivers to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, two drivers are essentially locked in – the only two drivers with multiple wins, Kevin Harvick and Saturday’s winner Joey Logano, each with two wins apiece.

But after that, things are wide open – and are going to get much more aggressive as the second quarter of the season kicks off this coming Sunday at Talladega.

Let’s break down the good, bad and ugly thus far in the 2014 Sprint Cup season:

THE GOOD

* Logano and Harvick: who would have thought they’d be in this position at this point, particularly Harvick in his first season with a new team?

* Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Even though he dropped one place in the standings – from fourth to fifth – after Richmond, this year’s Daytona 500 winner remains among the most consistent drivers in the series.

* Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth: With five championships between them, they remain atop the Cup standings for the third straight week – and yet neither driver has reached victory lane in a season where a new Chase-qualifying format has put winning at a premium.

* Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson have been the stars of the eight-driver 2014 Sprint Cup rookie class. Larson, in particular, has taken to Cup racing like a duck to water, with two top-five and four top-10 finishes in the first nine races. After Richmond, Dillon is in 12th place, one point ahead of the 13-th-ranked Larson. This is going to be a battle that is going to rage throughout the season.

* Stewart-Haas Racing and Penske Racing: Between the two of them, SHR and Team Penske account for six of the nine wins thus far in the Cup season. Harvick and Kurt Busch have won three for SHR, both in their respective first seasons with their new teams, while Penske’s Logano (two wins) and teammate Brad Keselowski (one win) have been the primary torch bearers for Ford.

THE BAD

* Even though Gordon is atop the points standings and is having one of the best starts to a season in a long time, there’s no denying one very crucial fact: Henrdick Motorsports as a whole has just one win this season (Earnhardt in the Daytona 500). If anyone would have made a bet in Las Vegas prior to the start of the season that Gordon and particularly six-time and defending Cup champ Jimmie Johnson would not have at least one win between them in the first nine races, the bettor would have been very rich right now.

* What’s happened to Roush Fenway Racing? Sure, Carl Edwards has a win and is ranked third in the standings. But really, what’s going on at RFR? Team Penske is dominating the Ford teams, with barely a peep out of RFR. Greg Biffle is tied for 10th with just one top-five and only three top-10 finishes. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., in his sophomore Cup season, has been consistently inconsistent, which is why he’s dropped to 26th in the standings. Something tells me that if RFR doesn’t start improving, team owner Jack Roush is going to make some changes within the organization.

* What has happened to Toyota in 2014? ONLY ONE WIN?! Ford and Chevrolet now have four wins apiece, but Toyota has just one victory (Kyle Busch). While Joe Gibbs Racing is having a good overall start to the season – with Kenseth second in the standings, Busch fourth and Denny Hamlin 14th – the rest of the Toyota camp is having struggles. Michael Waltrip Racing’s Brian Vickers, back in Cup on a full-time basis for the first time in three seasons, is tied for 10th, but Clint Bowyer is down to 20th.

* Kurt Busch: The elder Busch brother has been somewhat of an anomaly in 2014. Sure, he won at Martinsville, which is good. But even so, he’s dropped to 26th in the standings, with just one other top-five finish in the first nine races. Even worst, Busch has three DNFs. While the win will certainly help him qualify for the Chase, Busch has to pick up the pace in the second quarter of the season.

THE UGLY

* Martin Truex Jr. left Michael Waltrip Racing after last season when primary sponsor NAPA pulled its funding after the attempt to manipulate the finish at last summer’s final Chase-qualifying race at Richmond. Truex was an innocent victim of one of the sport’s ugliest events in recent history. He went to Furniture Row Racing hoping to rebound from the MWR debacle, as well as pick up where Kurt Busch left off in 2013, becoming the first driver from a single team to ever make the Chase. Unfortunately, Truex has had an absolutely horrible start to the season, with just one top-10 finish thus far, and is 27th in the Cup rankings. It’s a shame, because he’s a much better driver than his record indicates, and FRR is a much better team. Hopefully, things will start turning around in the second quarter of the season.

* Kasey Kahne: Kahne has become the Pete Best of Hendrick Motorsports. If you’re too young to know, Best was “the forgotten Beatle,” replaced by Ringo Starr just before the Fab Four prepared to make music history in the early 1960s. While his other three teammates – Gordon, Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson are all ranked in the top eight in the standings – Kahne has dropped to 22nd after the first nine races, and has just two top-10 finishes for his effort. One good thing is Kahne typically warms up in the second quarter of the season. But he has his work cut out for himself: he’s 125 points – nearly the equivalent of three wins – behind HMS teammate and Cup points leader Jeff Gordon.

* Parker Kligerman: If it wasn’t for bad luck, Kligerman would have no luck at all in 2014. He was very optimistic heading into his rookie Cup season, but what’s transpired in the first nine races has been nothing short of a disaster. In the first eight races, he recorded DNFs four times. He dropped to 38th in the points, as a result. And then last week, Swan Racing imploded, with Kligerman left without a ride as the team he was with was sold, but he wasn’t part of the package (J.J. Yeley replaces Kligerman). There’s not much else to say for Kligerman, other than things can’t get much worse – and the only way to go from here is up. Of course, that means he has to get a ride first. But with the season only one-quarter of the way through, that’s not going to be an easy thing to achieve.

* Danica Patrick: In a sophomore Cup season that promised better results than her freshman campaign, Patrick continues to struggle. After finishing 34th in Saturday’s race at Richmond, Patrick is 29th in the standings, 188 points behind Gordon, and she has just two top-20 finishes.

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Juan Pablo Montoya victorious on opening day of Race of Champions in Miami

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 27:  Juan Pablo Montoya of Columbia, driver of the #2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet prepares to practice on Carb Day ahead of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya added another trophy to his cabinet on Saturday by claiming a shock victory in the Race of Champions.

The event at the Marlins Park in Miami pitted some of motorsport’s biggest names up against each other in a multi-discipline challenge, with the Race of Champions’ traditional crossover circuit style being used.

Ahead of the battle for national honors on Sunday, the 17 drivers on the entry list in Miami faced off for the individual title.

Defending champion and four-time F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel suffered a shock exit in the group stage after defeats to Helio Castroneves and Travis Pastrana. The German won only one tie against 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi, who in turn had qualified following a shoot-out against GRC’s Scott Speed.

In the bottom half of the draw, IndyCar stars James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Tony Kanaan were eliminated in the group stages, while veteran British F1 racers David Coulthard and Jenson Button made it through. The pair were joined by nine-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen and NASCAR’s Kyle Busch; the latter’s brother, Kurt, was knocked out at the first hurdle.

Pastrana and Castroneves both fell in the quarter-finals, losing to Felipe Massa and Montoya respectively. Massa advanced through the draw despite a frightening incident in the group stage involving fellow F1 driver Pascal Wehrlein, who flipped his car after crossing the finish line.

Kristensen edged out Button 2-1 in their best-of-three bout to reach the semi-finals, setting up a tie against Coulthard after he eased past Kyle Busch 2-0.

Massa and Montoya’s semi-final went down to a tie-breaker, with the former receiving a time penalty to hitting the wall and gaining an advantage. As a result, Montoya progressed into the final, winning the tie 2-1. Losing 2015 finalist Kristensen followed Montoya through, beating Coulthard 2-0.

Montoya won the first heat of the final in the rallycross car, edging Kristensen out by less than a car length before jumping into a KTM X-Bow for the second match-up. Despite almost jumping the start, Montoya managed to wrestle his car through the two laps before edging out Kristensen by just 0.08 seconds, securing a shock rookie victory in the process.

“Honestly I had a blast,” Montoya said. “It’s pretty amazing. I told my wife, I’ve got to make it through the first round. It just worked out.”

Montoya will race in the ROC Nations Cup on Sunday, teaming up with recent IndyCar racer Gabby Chaves for Team Colombia.

Report: Manor making progress in talks to make start of F1 season

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 12:  Pascal Wehrlein of Germany driving the (94) Manor Racing MRT-Mercedes MRT05 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 12, 2016 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Manor Racing has made progress in talks with a possible investor as it bids to make the grid for the start of the 2017 Formula 1 season, according to a report from BBC Sport.

Manor confirmed at the beginning of the month that it had entered administration for the second time in three years amid ongoing financial difficulties.

The backmarker team finished 11th in last year’s constructors’ championship, dropping behind Sauber at the penultimate round and missing out on a sizeable amount of prize money as a result.

With a little over one month to go until the start of pre-season testing, Manor faces a race against time to keep racing, but the latest report from BBC Sport suggests that a breakthrough has been made.

Andrew Benson writes that the future of the team is dependent on the promised investment arriving in the next week, noting that “prospects have improved considerably over the last few days”.

Manor had previously been in talks with Mexican-American businessman Tavo Hellmund over a buyout, as well as a Chinese consortium. The report from BBC Sport also names Indonesian businessman Ricardo Galael, the father of GP2 racer Sean Galael, as a possible suitor for the team.

NBC Sports learned last week that the team is pushing to race with a modified version of its 2016 car – likely to be named the MRT05B – should it make the grid in 2017.

If Manor fails to find a buyer, the F1 grid will drop back down to 10 teams for the 2017 season, returning to its pre-2016 level prior to the arrival of Haas.

NBC Sports has approached Manor’s administrators, FRP Advisory, for comment.

Jacques Villeneuve: F1 is ‘supposed to be too expensive, too crazy’

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1997 Formula 1 world champion Jacques Villeneuve feels that he cannot relate to the series in its current form, saying that it is supposed to be “too expensive” and “too crazy”.

Villeneuve raced in F1 between 1996 and 2006, and remains a keen observer as part of his role as a pundit on Italian television.

F1 has striven to enforce greater cost control and road relevance in recent years, but Villeneuve believes that this is the wrong direction, saying officials should instead focus on making the series spectacular.

“That’s when I start to feel old because I don’t relate to the technology of modern Formula 1,” Villeneuve said.

“Because to my mind, Formula 1 has always been about extremes. Pushing the boundaries and human boundaries.

“It’s supposed to be too fast, it’s supposed to be too expensive, it’s supposed to be crazy. And that’s not what we have.

“You see drivers get out of the car and they didn’t even break a sweat because they have too massage their car the whole race and drive within eight seconds of what they’ve done in qualifying. It’s wrong.”

Villeneuve also believes that those in charge of F1 should not listen to fans’ opinions, citing the introduction of DRS in 2011 as being a negative result of doing so.

“The fans kept complaining that ‘oh, there’s not enough overtaking’, ‘oh, there’s not enough of this or that’,” Villeneuve said.

“By listening to that, what did F1 do? Let’s put DRS. Because that way we’ll have hundreds of overtakes in a race. But name me one overtake that you remember since DRS – you don’t. Because you don’t see the driver working it.

“Look at a motorbike race, sometimes they take a rider 10 laps to overtake another rider, but in these 10 laps you see the work that goes with it, and what that overtake happens, wow.

“But now you don’t. Next straight line, press a button, that’s it. All of these rule changes to try and create a better show actually create a worse show.

“Then the technology, take the engine, amazing beautiful technology – for the engineers. It shouldn’t be in F1. It doesn’t bring anything. It takes away from F1.

“It has nothing to do there. It’s crazy engineering. I wouldn’t want it on my road car.”

WRC’s Paddon calls for lessons to be learned from Monte Carlo spectator death

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FIA World Rally Championship racer Hayden Paddon has called for lessons to be learned following the death of a spectator on the opening stage of the Monte Carlo Rally on Thursday night.

A spectator was killed after being struck by Paddon’s car when the New Zealander hit black ice and careered into a roadside bank.

Hyundai driver Paddon was withdrawn from the remainder of the rally out of respect, and has now issued a statement regarding the incident.

Here is the statement in full:

Hi everyone,

Upon reflection, I wanted to issue a small statement about yesterday’s events.

Firstly, our thoughts are with the family and friends of the spectator involved. No matter the circumstances, this is never something we want to see.

Secondly, John [Kennard, co-driver] and I are humbled by all the messages of support at this time. Obviously, my thoughts are with the family and that is my only concern at the moment. Not being able to return home to New Zealand does make it a little tougher but it is important we stay strong.

I do want to take this chance to ask people not to speculate. Irrespective of how and why the accident happened, finger pointing will not change anything. The most important thing is that we learn from this and I am committed to work with the FIA and rally organizers relentlessly to ensure this does not happen again.

I will take this chance to ask spectators at rallies to please be considerate of where you stand and to respect the instructions of the marshals. We all want to enjoy a good show and go home to the family afterwards.

I also ask each and every rally fan at the events, if you see someone in a dangerous position to request they move for everyone’s best interest. As a community, we can collectively work together to prevent this from happening again.

Lastly, I please ask the respect from the media in these times, especially for the family and friends of the spectator. I will not issue any further statements or conduct interviews at this stage. We made the decision not to continue this weekend out of respect, but will be back in Sweden where we will pay tribute.

Thank you again for everyone’s support and for the support of the team – it really does mean a lot.”

The Monte Carlo Rally finishes on Saturday.