Larson Finally Chases Down Hamlin Atop NASCAR Cup Series Standings. WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (AP) — It took five wins by Kyle Larson to catch the most consistent driver in NASCAR Cup Series this season, but he finally did it.
Now, it’s a sprint to finish first in the driver points standings with three races left in the regular season. Larson and Denny Hamlin are tied with 917 points.
“I think for him and I both, we’ve been mentally there for a while now,” Larson said after his series-leading fifth win on Sunday at Watkins Glen. “And yes, I think come playoff time, we’ll just keep doing what we’ve been doing and, hopefully, we’ll find ourselves in the final four.”
NASCAR Cup Series: After the second race of the season at the Daytona road course, Hamlin took the points lead, and his consistency allowed him to extend it before Larson got hot in the spring and began nibbling away at it.
After 23 races, both drivers have 16 top tens and 12 top fives, with Larson leading the series with 12 stage wins to Hamlin’s five. Larson, 29, had a six-race winning streak that began at Darlington in early May and includes three victories and three second-place finishes in the No. 5 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, which has won 11 races this season. After the second race at Pocono in late June, he had reduced the margin to two points.
Hamlin then fought to reclaim a 13-point lead headed to Watkins Glen, where Larson’s triumph erased the whole deficit.
In his No. 11 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, Hamlin won seven races last year. He has yet to taste victory this year.
“I think we’re in good shape. “We’re doing extremely well,” Hamlin remarked. “Every race, we just keep going back and forth on who’s better.” But he’s certainly building up the victories and bonus points.” The next race is on Sunday at Indianapolis’ road circuit, followed by Michigan and the Daytona oval to finish the regular season.
Hamlin is a solid road racer with a win at Watkins Glen and a second-place finish at Sonoma six years ago that was nearly a triumph until Tony Stewart knocked him into the wall on the last turn.
Larson triumphed at Sonoma in June, and in both of his road course victories, he beat out teammate Chase Elliott, who is third all-time with seven road victories.
Larson explained, “I’ve always been decent at road courses, but I just didn’t know.” “When it came to the race, I was always in seventh or tenth place. But now I believe I’m in a fantastic race vehicle, and I’m able to maintain that aggressive pace throughout the race while my car stays with me.”
For the most part, Indy will remain a mystery. The legendary 2.5-mile oval was replaced by a 14-turn, 2.439-mile circuit that is as flat as a pancake. The Xfinity Series raced there for the first time last year, but 2017 will be the Cup’s inaugural appearance.
Larson admitted, “I haven’t made a single lap there on a simulator or anything, and I’m not going to get the chance to do that this week.”
There’s nothing I can bring with me, but until I get laps and practice, maybe there will be certain corners that are comparable, but we’ll just have to wait and see.” Larson is still savoring the experience.
Larson stated, “It’s exciting racing him (Hamlin), and I’m looking forward to the next few weeks and even the playoffs.” “I’m delighted there’s a lively regular-season point competition. In years past, I feel like the last race of the points has been a blowout. It’s quite cool to be tied with three races left.”
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