Gibbs camp sends message with 1-2 finish in the Windy City

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Outside of race winner Matt Kenseth, the happiest person at Chicagoland Speedway late Sunday night was likely car owner Joe Gibbs, who saw two of his drivers – Kenseth and Kyle Busch – finish 1-2 in the first race of the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup.

It’s quite the opening salvo from Joe Gibbs Racing, which showed on Sunday that the road to the Cup championship goes through them. But while Gibbs was thrilled with the outcome at Chicagoland, he knows it was just one race in a 10-race grind.

“The reality is tomorrow morning, it starts all over again,” Gibbs said following the GEICO 400. “We’re going to be worried. We got nine races. You see those competitors out there…I think this is going to be very, very competitive.”

Kenseth, who won his sixth race of the 2013 season, took the same tack as his boss: Happy for the victory, but ready to move on to New Hampshire Motor Speedway next weekend.

“Every single point, every position is equally as important from here all the way until the last lap at Homestead, so you want to get as many points as you can get each and every week,” said Kenseth. “We did a great job of that this weekend.”

“You want to enjoy this, then go to work on New Hampshire tomorrow, try to go there and get as many points as you can.  Just kind of take it one week at a time.”

But while Gibbs and Kenseth don’t seem to want to dwell too much on the events of Sunday night, it was still an impressive performance. Kenseth led a race-high 89 laps, and between himself and Kyle Busch, they paced 156 of 267 laps at Chicagoland.

As a result of their 1-2 finish, Kenseth now holds an eight-point lead over Busch going into Race No. 2 of the Chase in the Granite State. Busch naturally hopes to see that flip-flop soon, but was still pleased with Sunday’s outcome – from a team standpoint, at least.

“I think having the 18 [Busch] and the 20 [Kenseth] running up front like that shows that we’re capable of doing that,” said Busch. “Matt, I tell you, Matt is really, really good at mile-and-a-half racing. He is fast. He’s won a lot of them this year.

“I typically in the past haven’t been great at it, but certainly this year, I have been better at it. It’s a testament to us all learning, sharing information, getting better.”

And if JGR keeps getting better, there may be no one that can keep them from claiming a fourth Sprint Cup trophy, and their first since the 2005 season.

F1 2017 driver review: Kimi Raikkonen

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Kimi Raikkonen

Team: Scuderia Ferrari
Car No.: 7
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 7
Best Finish: P2 (Monaco, Hungary)
Pole Positions: 1
Fastest Laps: 2
Points: 205
Laps Led: 40
Championship Position: 4th

While this may have statistically been Kimi Raikkonen’s best campaign since his first year back in F1 in 2012, there is a good case for it being one of his most disappointing to date.

Raikkonen’s continued role at Ferrari has been questioned on a number of occasions, but the Finn looked capable of answering his critics heading into 2017 after impressing through pre-season testing as he appeared to get to grips well with the new-style cars.

But we soon grew accustomed to the same old story: flashes of potential, but otherwise an underwhelming, unsatisfactory campaign that saw Raikkonen be dwarfed by his teammate, Sebastian Vettel.

Raikkonen’s charge to his first pole position for over eight years in Monaco gave hope of a popular win, only for Ferrari to play its strategy in favor of title contender Vettel – why wouldn’t the team do so? – to leave him a disgruntled second.

While Vettel was able to impress at the majority of circuits, Raikkonen only looked strong at tracks that were unquestionably ‘Ferrari’ tracks, such as Hungary and Brazil. Like Vettel, Raikkonen should have racked up a good haul of points in Singapore, only for the start-line crash to sideline both Ferraris before they even reached Turn 1.

Again there is the question of ‘what could have been?’ in Malaysia had it not been for the spark plug issue on the grid, yet in Japan, Raikkonen was nowhere, finishing behind the Mercedes and Red Bulls.

Finishing just five points clear of Daniel Ricciardo despite having a much faster car for the best part of the season and the Red Bull driver’s own reliability issues sums up the disappointment of Raikkonen’s campaign.

He should have been an ally for Vettel in the title race by nicking points of Lewis Hamilton, much as Valtteri Bottas was doing for his Mercedes teammate. Instead, Raikkonen seemed to be tagging along for the best part of this season.

Season High: Pole in Monaco, his first since the 2008 French Grand Prix.

Season Low: Finishing a distant P4 at Spa – a circuit he made his own in the 2000s.