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.

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.