NASCAR points observations through nine races

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It was quite a night in Richmond last Saturday night, between drama for the win and drama in the garage after the race between Marcos Ambrose and Casey Mears.

But here’s how the points are now following the off week, the Richmond race, and the fact the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is already more than a third of the way through the regular season (9 of 26 complete).

LOGANO, HARVICK SEPARATE THEMSELVES

The seven winners in seven races kickoff to the 2014 season basically amped up the pressure to win multiple races and begin to separate themselves from the clump of those with only a single win. But with late moves to win in Darlington and Richmond, Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano, respectively, have emerged as two-time winners and in even better shape than those with one. Logano’s sixth in points, Harvick 20th, thus far.

THE REMAINING FIVE WITH ONE WIN ARE DOING ALRIGHT

Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are third through fifth in points, with Brad Keselowski seventh and Kurt Busch 25th. Kurt Busch has a very interesting month ahead of him with his Indianapolis 500 debut coming for Andretti Autosport. While he gains track time in preparation for his open-wheel sidebar, he needs to ensure the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 team on the Cup side doesn’t fall into the danger zone of losing more positions in the standings.

RUNNING GREAT, EVEN WITH NO WINS

The refrain of Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson are running well but haven’t won is a consistent one thus far. Kenseth was again in prime position to break through Saturday night before contact with Keselowski. As it is, Gordon still leads the points with Kenseth second. Johnson is eighth after a roller-coaster stretch of finishes: 24th, 2nd, 25th, 3rd and 32nd in the last five races. That famed consistency for the No. 48 team has taken a brief hiatus.

THE NEXT TIER – ROUGHLY P9 TO P27

From Ryan Newman in ninth to Martin Truex Jr. in 27th is separated by 90 points, and only the Stewart-Haas pair of Harvick and Kurt Busch have wins in that standings range. We’ll see if anyone in this group – names like Greg Biffle, Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne and Clint Bowyer, or rookies Kyle Larson or Austin Dillon for instance – breaks through anytime soon to bring the winner total to eight and halfway to a possible 16.

STANDINGS: Through 9 of 26 races.

Fernando Alonso completes first test with United Autosports

Photo: United Autosports
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Two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso enjoyed his first outing with United Autosports, with whom he will contest the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona, in their Ligier JS P217 LMP2 chassis.

The McLaren Formula 1 driver completed the test at Motorland Aragon in Spain alongside co-driver Phil Hanson, who will be a teammate with Alonso at next year’s 24-hour Daytona enduro. Filipe Albuquerque, a former GT class winner at the Rolex 24, was also on hand to help Alonso and the team ahead of Alonso’s first run in an LMP2 car, which comes only a couple days after he made his LMP1 testing debut with Toyota. Albuquerque races with Mustang Sampling Racing in IMSA, but will return to United’s European Le Mans Series program for all but one race in 2018.

“I had a great first test with United Autosports. Obviously, we are on a really tight schedule between now and Daytona, but it was nice to jump in the car for the first time,” said Alonso, who will rejoin the team at the official Roar Before the 24 test on January 5-7.

Alonso added, “There’s quite a few switches and things to study so it was important to do this initial shakedown before Daytona, so I could fully learn about the car. I’m happy with everything – the car felt great and the team were fantastic. The atmosphere here is wonderful, like a big family, so today has been amazing. I cannot wait for Daytona.”

Team owner Zak Brown, who also serves as executive director of McLaren Technology Group and helps lead the McLaren Formula 1 effort, shared Alonso’s enthusiasm and was not surprised he was able to acclimate himself relatively quickly.

“Fernando’s first test with United Autosports went awesome as expected. He is a world champion and it is a pleasure to have him in our car,” he said of Alonso’s debut with the team.

Alonso is currently schedule to contest the Rolex 24 with the aforementioned Hanson and McLaren test driver Lando Norris.