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.

Ferrari, Mercedes launch 2018 F1 cars

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The title combatants from the 2017 FIA Formula 1 World Championship season both launched their 2018 challengers earlier on Thursday, with Scuderia Ferrari revealing the SF71H and Mercedes AMG Petronas revealing the W09.

For Ferrari, the SF71H represents an evolution of last year’s SF70H, which helped produce Ferrari’s best season in several years.

They presented a strong challenge to Mercedes for the championship, even leading the way at various points, with Sebastian Vettel recording five wins along the way. But, mechanical failures and crashes hampered their efforts late in the season, and they settled for second in the driver’s championship (with Vettel) and the constructor’s championship.

Entering 2018, the team is emphasizing the importance of building momentum with every race to ultimately secure their first constructor’s crown since 2008 and their first driver’s crown since 2007.

“There are no challenges actually. There are no challenges in the plural. There is just one challenge, which is the final challenge,” asserted team principal Maurizio Arrivabene. So that’s work that you build and you don’t build that work in one or two races. We’ve seen over the last few years, in the last championships, that you work race by race, and you always try to do the best you can.”

Technical director Mattia Binotto detailed some of the updates on the 2018 car, such as an new power unit and new suspension designs in anticipation of new tire constructions.

“We worked a lot on the power unit, we worked on its reliability and performance. We worked on the packaging, on suspensions in the rear axle because there will be new tires the following season, so we also tried to design the car to accommodate the new tires,” he explained.

Binotto added, “In regards to aerodynamics, we maintained our concept of having the inlets on the radiators, and everybody’s copying that, but we tried to make an additional step forward and what we showed today is not the same element of last year, but it is something more developed.”

Mercedes, meanwhile, will look to take it’s fifth consecutive driver’s and constructor’s championships with the W09. The team even took the car to the track for its launch, conducting a filming day at Silverstone Circuit.

“It is always a very exciting time because what has been designed is coming together and coming alive,”  team principal Toto Wolff said during the launch.

Despite facing challenges with last year’s car, the W08, the team elected to follow a similar design concept with the aerodynamics to improve on the car’s strengths while simultaneously addressing its weak points.

“We like some of the character traits from our diva,” Wolf quipped. “The W08 was the fastest car on the grid, scoring the highest number of pole positions and winning the most races last year. So we were careful not to lose the car’s many strengths just to overcome the difficulties.”

Both Ferrari and Mercedes are expected to slug it out again for the 2018 driver’s and constructor’s championships.

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