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.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.