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Debate

Denny Hamlin vs. Kyle Larson: Is this the rivalry NASCAR needs right now?

Last weekend at the Nashville Superspeedway, Kyle Larson had a day to forget. Although he finished in eighth place, it could have gone much better for the Hendrick Motorsports star. One of the mistakes that did him in, was his final restart during the race. In light of this, he was asked if he would have done anything differently. Especially if another driver was ahead of him, specifically Denny Hamlin.

This is significant because Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin are relatively good friends off the track. If one had to compare their friendship, it would be similar to the one between Max Verstappen and Lando Norris. Both Hamlin and Larson have been friends for a long time. However, it is only recently that Larson’s steadily growing success is beginning to threaten Hamlin’s success.

So the big question is how the two drivers can establish a clear border between personal and professional setup. In the time when Larson has emerged as a title threat, that friendship is starting to strain a little. In the past two seasons alone, the duo have had a few on-track run-ins. At New Hampshire, Hamlin roughed him up, and a week later at Nashville, that is why Larson was seen getting his revenge.

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What exactly happened? At New Hampshire, Hamlin squeezed Kyle Larson wide, drawing criticism from the Hendrick team.  Battling for position, Hamlin made Turns 1 and 2 wide around the flat 1-mile oval. It was enough to get Larson out of shape, which led to a fiery back-and-forth between Larson and his spotter, Tyler Monn. Clearly, crew chief Cliff Daniels and spotter Tyler Monn did not appreciate the stunt and suggested that Larson not take it lying down.

So at Nashville, Larson did it back to Hamlin, drawing the ire of the latter. On the stage’s final lap, Larson used a familiar Hamlin trick of making the corner wide for the No. 5. It got Hamlin out of shape, and Larson was able to beat the No. 11 back to the start/finish line. Under caution, Hamlin showed his displeasure, slamming into the rear of Larson’s vehicle multiple times.

To this, the HMS driver even argued after the race that he just needed clean air and needed to move Hamlin to get it. But would he have driven as deep in the corner if it wasn’t Hamlin leading?

When asked if he would have made a different move on the first overtime restart at Nashville if it wasn’t Denny Hamlin in front of him, Kyle Larson voiced, “I’m not sure because I didn’t have somebody in front of me to know how I would have raced,” to Bob Pockrass.

He further added, “I would have ultimately known that I would need clean air on the nose, no matter who’s in front of me, but yeah, I guess you’d be less likely to be as dumb and aggressive as I was maybe, but again, you don’t really know until you are put in that situation.”

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And what was Denny Hamlin’s response to this?

Hamlin noted that this surge in aggression is just a natural result of both drivers competing fiercely for wins and the championship over the past two years. With Kyle Larson leading the standings and Hamlin in third, both drivers are tied with Christopher Bell and William Byron for the most wins in the series, each having three. It’s clear that the stakes are high, and that a competitive edge is showing.

I think a lot of it comes from just running in the same position most times,” Hamlin said. “I mean, when it comes down to it, we’ve raced each other for a lot of wins over the last few years. And really, no matter what team he’s driven for, he’s competed for race wins and so yeah, I think a lot of that is because we’re running in the same place at the same time.”

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Hopefully, the cycle has ended, and they will not try anything stupid this weekend. Although both drivers have qualified for the playoffs, it would hardly do them any good to squabble with each other. The last thing that Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing need is an endless cycle of revenge.

This weekend at the Chicago Street Course offers a chance for a fresh start. It also could mean bragging rights to be the second-ever winner at NASCAR’s one and only street track. Both Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson will be keen to be that driver and try to stop someone like Shane van Gisbergen.