It’s not a duel it’s a rivalry among friends

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - JULY 06: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Valvoline Chevrolet, looks on during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series Grant Park 165 at Chicago Street Course on July 06, 2024 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

NASCAR Cup Series championship contending drivers Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin have carried a high-speed low-intensity rivalry throughout the season.

Both Larson, the 2021 series champion who drives the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and Hamlin, who drives the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, have a series-leading three wins this year. And they have been close to one another consistently during the final laps of recent racing—close enough for contact the last three weeks.

The Californian Larson, however, instead of retaliating on track or outside the race car, has calmly soldiered through, no matter the injustice perceived by others. He says that’s largely because he and Hamlin are friends, even golfing buddies.

“Just feeling like you can trust, trust the moves that somebody is going to make on you,’’ Larson said, conceding he probably tolerates the rougher racing with Hamlin because they are friends.

“I feel like that’s when you can have close racing and trust what they’re going to do I think that’s fun to me. I’ve always enjoyed racing him a lot, before I guess middle of last year (when contact from Hamlin knocked Larson out of a Pocono, Pa. race).

“I’m sure we can get back to that point and we’ve had fun racing each other since Pocono. There’s just been a few incidents where I feel like I’ve been run out of space a little more than maybe someone else would put me into that situation. But, yeah, I guess that could just be considered racing sometimes.”