NASCAR points observations through 11 races

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Taking the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season in chunks, we’re now two races away from the regular season halfway mark, with nine winners from the first 11 races. Once we hit Race 13 at Dover first weekend in June, that’s the official halfway point of the regular season.

Here’s how the points, Chase-wise, shook out post-Kansas:

AND GORDON MAKES NINE

Finally, right? The way Jeff Gordon and the Alan Gustafson-led 24 team have been running to start 2014, it was only a matter of time before they finally went to victory lane. Now it’s a likely battle between Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth to make it to 10 winners this year.

THE NINE ARE SPREAD THROUGHOUT THE TOP 30

Five of the nine race winners are in the top six, with Kenseth in second the lone interloper. But with Brad Keselowski 11th, Denny Hamlin 12th, Kevin Harvick 15th and Kurt Busch 28th, they wouldn’t necessarily be in Chase positions at the moment given their current standing – Busch in particular.

NEXT TO WIN? 

With the All-Star race this weekend, the next points-paying race is the Coca-Cola 600 in two weeks. It’s traditionally been a strong track for Johnson, Kenseth and Kasey Kahne, and you’d expect one of those three could break through.

THAT FREAKY MOMENT P27 IS DANICA AND P28 IS KURT BUSCH

For one week anyway, Danica Patrick is 27th in points and her Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Busch is 28th. Busch has run better than he’s finished; the reverse is true for Patrick, but she posted one of her best career NASCAR races Saturday night in Kansas with a career-best seventh place finish.

ROOKIE BATTLE REMAINS TIGHT

Kyle Larson in 13th and Austin Dillon in 14th in points are separated by only 12 points, a gap that increased by seven this weekend. What was a deep rookie class in terms of numbers to start the year isn’t anywhere near these two performance-wise. The other six rookies entered fall anywhere from 29th to 39th in points, and Justin Allgaier in 29th is 108 points behind Dillon.

POINTS: Through 11 of 26 regular season races.

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.