NASCAR AMERICA: Wednesday Round-Up (VIDEO)

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With Pocono in the rear view mirror, NASCAR’s gearing up to roar through the esses this weekend on the road course at Watkins Glen International.

When it comes to the Sprint Cup Series’ two road courses, the Glen is considered less technical than the Sonoma Raceway in Northern California. And as former Watkins Glen winner Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman explained on today’s NASCAR AMERICA, higher speeds are also part of the challenge.

Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 is the final “wild card” of the regular season, making it a crucial race for drivers that are still winless and looking to make it into the Chase.

Two of those drivers are A.J. Allmendinger and Martin Truex Jr., both of whom have had road racing success in the past. Petty and Kligerman see ‘Dinger and MTJ as possible dark horses.

And with just four regular season races after Sunday, the “new” Chase is indeed getting closer. The NASCAR AMERICA crew reviewed the tweaks made to NASCAR’s playoff stretch, which is now made up of three rounds that lead into the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

For more clips from NASCAR AMERICA, check out the show’s archive page.

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.