Larson eventually caught up with Hamlin at the top of the NASCAR standings.

NEW YORK (AP) — WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (AP) — Kyle Larson needed five wins this season to catch the most consistent driver in NASCAR’s Cup Series, but he achieved it.

With three races remaining in the regular season, it’s now a dash to the top of the driver’s point standings. With 917 points, Larson and Denny Hamlin are tied for first place.

Larson said after his series-leading fifth victory at Watkins Glen on Sunday, “I think for both of us, we’ve been mentally there for a while now.” “And yes, I believe that when it comes to the playoffs, we’ll simply keep doing what we’ve been doing and, maybe, we’ll be in the final four.”

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 included 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 heading 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 raking up the victories and bonus points. “

The next race is on Sunday at Indianapolis’ road course, followed by Michigan and the Daytona circuit to close out 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.

“I haven’t done a single lap on a simulator or anything like that, and I won’t get the chance to do that this week,” he said,” Larson said. “I honestly haven’t even remembered the edges yet. There’s nothing I can bring with me, but after I get laps and practice, there might be some corners that are comparable, but we’ll have to wait and see. “

Larson, on the other hand, is savoring the moment.

Larson stated, “It’s exciting to race 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 felt like the last race of the points was a blowout. It’s quite cool to be tied with three races left. “


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