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.

Mercedes, Ferrari go conservative on Austrian GP tire picks

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Pirelli has confirmed all 20 Formula 1 drivers’ tire picks for next weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, with most opting to stack up on ultra-softs.

As it does for every grand prix, Pirelli will bring three compounds to Austria next week, electing for the softest possible combination of ultra-soft, super-soft and soft tires.

In the regular pre-race release of each driver’s tire picks, Pirelli revealed that Force India, McLaren and Red Bull have gone down the most aggressive routes, stacking up on the ultra-soft tire.

Title contenders Mercedes and Ferrari have gone down a more conservative route, favoring additional sets of the super-soft compound.

Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen will take seven sets of ultra-softs to Spielberg, while Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas will have eight sets at their disposal through the weekend.

Graham Rahal survives Road America to finish eighth

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Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing faced a roller coaster of a race during the Kohler Grand Prix at Road America on Sunday.

He was a rocket off the initial start, jumping from sixth on the grid up to fourth exiting turn 1, but was almost immediately ordered to surrender a position for blocking. He quickly slipped back to sixth, and then began plummeting down the order as he battled an oversteer condition that saw his car chew through its rear tires more quickly than others.

Forced to abandon the planned three-stop strategy, he and the No. 15 Gehl Honda team switched to a four-stop plan that saw him drop well outside the top ten at times.

However, they kept plugging away and rebounded nicely in the second half of the race to eventually finish in eighth. While he would have liked to finish higher up the order, Rahal knows that he and the team got everything they could out of it.

“The car was a handful today. I knew about five laps in that I didn’t have the pace for a three-stop strategy,” Rahal revealed post-race. “We tried as best we could to work with what we had during the race and overcome it. I would have obviously liked to have finished better, but eighth is about as good as we could do today. We struggled with a very loose race car all weekend and just couldn’t put a dent in the problem. We worked awfully hard but just missed it this weekend.”

The eighth-place finish keeps Rahal in the championship hunt. Rahal now sits seventh in the standings, 11 points behind fifth-place Josef Newgarden and 72 behind championship leader Scott Dixon.

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Ed Jones continues steady run with seventh at Road America

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Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones has made waves in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season with a string of solid performances that belie his rookie status.

And Sunday’s Kohler Grand Prix at Road America was no different.

The 22-year-old battled an oversteering car most of the weekend at Road America, and had to navigate a little carnage late in the race as Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay both fell through the field with front wing problems.

However, Jones weathered all storms to finish an impressive seventh, his fifth finish inside the top 10 this year, and his best finish since his third place at the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade MotorOil.

“It was a really tough race,” Jones said of the effort. “We had a loose car yesterday. It was loose, but fast, for qualifying, and today again the car was really loose. I was hanging on the whole race, but the team had some good pit stops and we were able to move up.

“Obviously, the strategy was pretty similar to everyone else. Everyone was aggressive out there. It was hard racing but we came out with a seventh place and we moved up a little bit in the points.”

The seventh-place run sees Jones maintain his position in the top ten in the championship. He currently sits tenth in the standings, three points ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Max Chilton.

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Vilander replaces Bird at AF Corse for Nurburgring WEC round

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AF Corse has confirmed that Toni Vilander will race the No. 71 Ferrari 488 GTE in next month’s FIA World Endurance Championship round at the Nürburgring in place of Sam Bird, who is tied up with Formula E commitments in New York.

Vilander currently races full-time in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with Risi Competizione, and appeared at the 24 Hours of Le Mans two weeks ago.

The Finn won the WEC GT drivers’ title in 2014 and last raced full-time in the series in 2015, but will return at the Nürburgring in place of Bird, who confirmed on Monday that he would be prioritizing his Formula E commitments on the July 16 weekend.

Vilander is relishing the opportunity to race alongside Davide Rigon in the No. 71 Ferrari, and is eager to bounce back from an early retirement at Le Mans.

“I’m happy to be able to return to the FIA WEC with the 488 GTE of AF Corse team. This is my chance to cancel the disappointment of the 24 Hours of Le Mans as soon as possible,” Vilander said.

“Car number 71 is in the top places of the championship standings, and I will give all I have to achieve the best possible result at Nürburgring, to help Ferrari in the manufacturers’ championship and Davide Rigon in the drivers’ ranking.”