‘The other Kyle’ continues run as most consistent driver in last 4 Sprint Cup races

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Pop quiz: What Sprint Cup driver has two top-fives and one other top-10 finish in the last four races?

Brad Keselowski? Dale Earnhardt Jr.? Jimmie Johnson? Jeff Gordon? Kyle Busch?

If you picked Kyle Busch, you were kind of half-right.

Hard as it may seem to believe, Sprint Cup rookie Kyle Larson has been the hottest and most consistent driver in the series since Bristol four races ago.

He finished 10th at Bristol, second at Fontana (also won the Nationwide Series race there that same weekend), 27th at Martinsville and rallied back for a fifth-place showing in Monday’s rain-postponed Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

And in doing so, not only was he the top-finishing rookie of the race, the driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet jumped four spots in the Sprint Cub standings, climbing from 19th to 15th.

If the Chase for the Sprint Cup were to start tomorrow, Larson would be in the field of 16. Think about that.

Larson is doing so well of late, that all he’s missing is his first career Sprint Cup win. And even though the series is going to the uber-difficult Darlington Raceway this coming weekend, Larson has just the right amount of talent and moxie to win at the so-called “track too tough to tame.”

“I think so,” Larson said when asked if he thinks he’s ready to win in NASCAR’s marquee series. “I feel like we’ve been a top‑10 car most races.

“We were good at Bristol, good at Fontana, good here. I think if we just keep keeping ourselves in contention, things will work out late in the races or we might have a dominating car one day and get our first win.

“I feel like right now it could come at a 1.5-mile or a little bit bigger track (Darlington is 1.366 miles around). Hopefully that comes soon because there’s a lot on the schedule.”

Larson might have finished a bit higher Monday – maybe fourth or even third – but wasn’t able to get any forward movement following the final restart.

“I’m happy we didn’t lose any spots,” Larson said. “A little bit disappointed we didn’t gain any because we were on four fresh tires.

“The 24 (runner-up Jeff Gordon) and 55 (fourth-place Brian Vickers) had two and beat us. All in all, a pretty good day. Going on to Darlington, a track I really like, and try to do even better.”

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Fernando Alonso likes NASCAR country, but he’s not leaving F1 any time soon

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Jimmie Johnson strolled into the Charlotte Convention Center and did a double-take when he saw Fernando Alonso hanging out in a hallway.

“What’s he doing here?” NASCAR’s seven-time champion wondered.

Alonso made the trip to North Carolina to make an appearance at NASCAR’s annual preseason media tour. No, a ride in NASCAR is not imminent, but the two-time Formula One champion is about to embark on his first major sports car race .

Alonso will race this weekend in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona for United Autosports, the sports car team owned by his McLaren F1 boss, Zak Brown. It was Brown who paved the way for Alonso to compete in last year’s Indianapolis 500, and he is helping the Spaniard knock prestigious races off his wish list.

Alonso spent about 10 minutes chatting with Johnson, and the duo was eventually joined by sports car aces Scott Pruett and Joey Hand, who were brought to the NASCAR event by IMSA to help promote the Rolex, and then Cup champion Kevin Harvick.

The meet-and-greet with Alonso was a thrill for Johnson. Alonso was equally impressed.

“The first time I heard his name it was probably 2003 on the NASCAR video game,” Alonso said Tuesday. “I used to choose him, not knowing him, just because of the car. I remember playing with another friend of mine, he likes a chocolate company I will not name now, and he was choosing that car and I was choosing Jimmie’s car.

“But that was the first time I heard of him, and obviously the success that he has in the years in motor racing, he became a legend of our sport, and massive respect.”

Johnson said he’s always been a fan of Alonso’s and spent some time telling Alonso how well he ran in the Indianapolis 500 last May. Alonso led 27 laps and seemed to be in contention for the win until his engine expired 21 laps from the finish.

“He handled himself so well, really did a great job, and I think brought a lot to the table,” Johnson said. “He brought worldwide attention to motorsports and it was really good for us here stateside.”

While in NASCAR country, Alonso was asked about potentially trying a stock car someday. It’s not something that could happen soon, he said, but it is something he’d like to at least attempt.

“Right now, it looks quite far. The driving technique and the experience all those guys have, it’s difficult for me to achieve that level,” Alonso said. “I will never know until I try, so I would like one day to test a car and after that, driving the car, I will know how enjoyable it will be in racing.

“Outside (watching), the races are great because they are all in a group, it is not predictable at all and until the last lap, you don’t know what is going to happen. We love watching from the outside, but I don’t know from the inside.”

Alonso has so far only had three days of testing at Daytona in the sports car to adjust to a closed cockpit, as well as driving at night and in traffic. Trying different series has been a thrill for him, and he’s still eyeing a way to get Le Mans on his schedule.

“It’s one thing that I would like to do, I would like to compete in the best races in the world, and Le Mans and is one of the top races,” he said. “If that day will be this year or not is still to be discussed, but maybe yes.”

More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org/