WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA feat. Steve Letarte, Marcos Ambrose

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team may be atop the NASCAR world after their victory Sunday at Pocono, but Earnhardt himself says the team still has areas to improve on before the Chase.

Who better to ask what those areas are than Earnhardt’s crew chief, Steve Letarte?

Today on NASCAR AMERICA, NBCSN’s Marty Snider will chat with Letarte about that subject as well as his driver’s growing confidence and how the new Chase format could impact the 88 team’s strategy from race to race.

You can watch today’s episode at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN or you can CLICK HERE to stream it online and on your mobile device through NBC Sports Live Extra.

Also on tap:

  • Rick Allen, Kyle Petty and guest analyst Parker Kligerman review the new rules for the Chase format and discuss how it could lead to new strategies for those crew chiefs of the playoff competitors.
  • Marcos Ambrose faces a critical weekend at Watkins Glen as he tries to get himself into the post-season. NBCSN’s Kelli Stavast visits the Richard Petty Motorsports shop to speak with the road racing ace, who is winless and currently sits 49 points behind 16th in the Chase standings.
  • A look at the stats of six particular Sprint Cup drivers – three with a history of success at Watkins Glen and three who have done poorly there. Which of these drivers has a chance to win and which of them would be classified as a “shock” if he/she won?

If you plan to stream, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified. Once you plug those pieces of information in, you’ll have access to the stream.

Again, CLICK HERE at 5 p.m. ET to watch NBCSN’s NASCAR AMERICA.

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.