NASCAR points observations through four races

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Hard to believe but we’re already a full month into the new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. And while points aren’t of the same magnitude in years past, with wins counting more in terms of punching Chase tickets, they still matter.

Here’s a few observations of those in great, good, and not-so-good shape through four rounds (last week’s linked here).

IN GREAT SHAPE

Add Bristol winner Carl Edwards to the list that includes Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. And as the only driver with four top-10s in four races, Jeff Gordon is off to a phenomenal start as well in his elusive, seemingly eternal “drive for five.”

OFF AND RUNNING

Those from fifth through 11th in points – Jimmie Johnson down to Kasey Kahne – are in good shape. With second on Sunday night in Bristol, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is on a mission too. He’s driving like a man possessed and has already made key strides through the opening month of the season in his second year for Roush Fenway Racing; he’s currently 10th in points. Could he be NASCAR’s next first-time winner?

Additionally, how cool is it that Stenhouse, in the 17, and Aric Almirola, in the 43 were battling in the top three at Bristol? Two of NASCAR’s iconic numbers in contention at one of its most iconic tracks was a nice modern day throwback.

CLOSE, BUT NOT THERE YET

The group P12-23 have all had at least one really good run but not a string as yet. Big names here include Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, Jamie McMurray, Tony Stewart and rookie Kyle Larson among others.

MORE WORK TO DO

Through four races, those big names without a top-10 finish include Clint Bowyer, AJ Allmendinger, Martin Truex Jr., Danica Patrick and Kurt Busch. For Kurt, it has just not been the start he needed to his new relationship with Stewart-Haas Racing, despite running well at times. Same story for Truex, now in the Furniture Row 78 car.

POINTS: Through 4 of 26 regular season races.

Sage Karam, Tony Kanaan fastest in Monday’s practice for Indy 500

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In the second-to-last practice session of the week, Sage Karam paced the 33 drivers qualified for Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 on Monday.

Karam had a field-best speed of 226.461 mph, followed by Tony Kanan (225.123 mph), Ryan Hunter-Reay (224.820), Charlie Kimball (224.582) and Alexander Rossi (224.507).

Sixth through 10th fastest were Will Power (224.445), Helio Castroneves (224.368), Marco Andretti (224.148) and rookie Zachary Claman Demelo (224.91) and Scott Dixon (223.966).

Power and Castroneves ran the most laps of all drivers at 120 and 118, respectively.

Two other Team Penske drivers struggled to get speed out of their cars. Defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden was 28th-fastest (221.982 mph) and Simon Pagenaud, who was the slowest (220.902 mph) of the 33 cars on-track.

Pole sitter Ed Carpenter was 14th-fastest with a best speed of 223.573 mph in a 100-lap effort.

Most drivers were in race trim or were testing things for Sunday’s Greatest Spectacle In Racing such as fuel mileage, chassis setup and more.

Rookie Matheus Leist missed most of the session with an apparent electrical problem that kept him to just 19 laps.

There was one incident of note during the 3 ½ hour session: IndyCar rookie Robert Wickens crashed coming out of Turn 2 during the first hour of practice.

Wickens appeared to skim the outside SAFER Barrier, went left and then violently turned hard back into the outside retaining wall.

MORE: Wickens wrecks during Indy 500 practice

The Honda-powered machine for the Canadian driver suffered heavy damage to the right side, particularly the right front tire and the right side of the front end.

There will be no further on-track activity for the Indy cars until Friday’s final practice to fine tune things for Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

We’ll have the full practice speed chart, as well as What Drivers Said, shortly. Please check back soon.

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