Kurt Busch focused on present Chase battle for FRR

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Kurt Busch may be heading for Stewart-Haas Racing next season, but there’s still the job of putting Furniture Row Racing into the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Two regular season races remain before the Chase begins, and Busch feels they’re the most important two races in team history.

“We won’t have any type of cushion whatsoever,” he said on Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. “We have to race these next two against right now I see the Penske cars [Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano] as the two we are racing heads up.

“After Sunday night, after the Atlanta race, we will see exactly what numbers are going to be in front of us and how that will play out, but we can’t go there to run 10th. We have to go there and run top five in these next two races.”

Busch’s attempt to earn a Chase berth took a hit last weekend at Bristol. A damaged right rear wheel hub relegated him to a 31st-place finish after he had led early in the race.

That’s pretty much brought the margin for error to zero for “The Outlaw,” who is six points out of the Top 10 in 12th position with no wins.

“The Chase for us started a few weeks back,” he said. “We’ve had to be perfect and run sixth and run third and run these top fives up against the stats every week.

“When we had a week like we had last week with the right-rear hub falling off while we are leading the race, those are things that are tough to overcome.”

Busch has been competitive lately at Atlanta, with two victories and four Top-10s in his last six starts on the 1.5-mile oval. He’ll start 32nd for tomorrow night’s Advocare 500.

Hamilton leads damp first USGP practice at COTA, Hartley debuts

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Lewis Hamilton continued his impressive Formula 1 record at the Circuit of The Americas by topping opening practice for the United States Grand Prix on Friday for Mercedes.

A four-time winner of the USGP at COTA, Hamilton set the pace in damp conditions in first practice after rain hit the Austin area in the lead-up to the start of the session.

After initially venturing out on intermediate tires, Hamilton made the switch to super-softs at the halfway point in FP1, ultimately posting a fastest time of 1:36.335.

Hamilton’s time saw him finish over half a second clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who he could beat to the F1 drivers’ championship at COTA this weekend should results go his way.

Mercedes got two cars into the top three as Valtteri Bottas wound up third in the second W08 car, six-tenths back from Hamilton, while Max Verstappen ended FP1 fourth for Red Bull.

Felipe Massa led Williams into the top 10 with an impressive lap en route to fifth, finishing ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne.

Vandoorne was left to lead McLaren’s charge after a hydraulic leak sidelined Fernando Alonso for much of the session, limiting the Spaniard to just four laps in total.

Force India managed to get both its drivers up into the top 10 as Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez finished eighth and ninth respectively, edging out Renault’s Carlos Sainz Jr. who was P10 in his first appearance for the team.

Brendon Hartley enjoyed his first run-out in Toro Rosso’s STR12 car ahead of his grand prix debut on Sunday, taking P14 overall.

The New Zealander had not driven an F1 car since a test with Mercedes in 2012, but put in a solid first display in practice, even though his race hopes are set to be hindered by a grid penalty.

Second practice for the United States Grand Prix is live on the NBC Sports app from 3pm ET today.