‘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.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”