Kyle Larson just seems to keep getting better and better with each new race on the Sprint Cup series. (Photo: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Strong finishes are quickly becoming the rule, not the exception for Sprint Cup rookie Kyle Larson

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It’s quickly gotten to the point where it’s not a surprise that Sprint Cup rookie Kyle Larson winds up with a top-10 finish in almost every race.

Rather, it’s almost becoming expected from the Elk Grove, Calif. native.

After finishing 38th in the season-opening Daytona 500, 20th at Phoenix and 19th at Las Vegas, Larson has two top-five and two other top-10 in the last five races.

Broken down, he was 10th at Bristol, runner-up at Fontana (after winning the Nationwide Series race there the day before), fifth at Fort Worth and eighth Saturday night at Darlington. The only blemish during that five-race stretch was a 27th-place showing at Martinsville three weeks ago.

“We have been good every week,” Larson said. “Every week I feel like we have had great speed. Our car has been in the top 10, I feel, in most races.

“Martinsville was probably our worst one and that’s a lot of it to do with me. I think we have been doing a great job. The first couple of races we made some mistakes, but now it seems like we have kind of got some momentum and figuring things out and the races have been going smoother for us.

“We have been getting solid finishes so we just have to keep that little streak going and just be consistent. So far, there have been a lot of winners so you have to put yourself in position for later in the season if the 16 fill up and you don’t have a win. I feel like we should get a win here shortly.”

Corresponding with those outstanding finishes for the 21-year-old rookie driver are how he’s quietly climbed upward in the Sprint Cup standings.

After leaving Daytona 35th in the rankings, he’s progressively moved up each week, to 14th-place after Darlington.

And that’s after wrecking his primary car in practice and being forced to go to a backup car.

Impressive indeed.

“I was really confident going into tonight,” Larson said after Saturday’s race. “I started the race off so loose and just had to hang on for a couple runs and Shine got the car tightened up the car for me and we were able to run I thought top‑10 or ‑12 speeds.

“Finally got up there and then I got in the wall a couple times and had to pull the fenders back out and drive back up there.  We had four tires at the end when a lot of people had two, so I was pretty excited about that.

“The restarts just didn’t really work out for me that well. I was 12th the first restart and got to 10th and got to 8th. I finally had the restart in that last one in 8th, I was going to be in a good spot but we just stacked up on the top. Still ended up 8th, but all in all it was a good Saturday for us. Friday was terrible, but my team worked hard.”

Although Larson is keeping a close eye on where he’s at in the Sprint Cup standings, he’s also keeping an extremely sharp eye on where he is in the Rookie-of-theYear rankings.

With his top-10 finish at Darlington, he extended his lead in the ROY standings, as well.

“My goal was always to win the Rookie-of-the-Year so it hasn’t changed yet,” Larson said. “We have put ourselves in position to win that so far. I pay attention to the rookie points and right now we are leading it.

“I definitely pay attention to where Austin (Dillon) is at as well as Justin Allgaier and the other rookies just because I want to win that bad, so just working hard to do that.  Austin is really good at finishing races and being consistent in getting his car better throughout each run so it makes me work hard to do that also.”

Dillon isn’t the only fellow driver Larson is keeping track of. There’s the budding rivalry between himself and fellow Sprint Cup driver Kyle Busch, and given the quick success in the Nationwide Series this season for two-time winner Chase Austin, Larson is eager to build a good-natured Sprint Cup career-long rivalry with him soon, as well.

“I don’t even call me and Kyle (Busch) a rivalry, we are just racing each other each week and want to beat each other,” Larson said. “It’s not like a bad rivalry or anything like that.

“Chase (Elliott) does an amazing job in a race car. He has been quick every race so far this season. He seems like he gets better and better each week. He is going to win a couple of more times this year and hopefully with us both being young we are going to be racing and battling each other for the rest of our careers.

“Hopefully we will be doing it up front in the Cup series. He is with a great organization over there with Hendrick Motorsports and JR Motorsports. I’ve got good stuff over at Chip Ganassi Racing too, so hopefully we will be duking it out for a long time.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Famous faces descend on Austin for USGP weekend

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 22:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP talks with actors Christoph Waltz and Rosa Salazar in the garage  during final practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Formula 1 has a habit of attracting the rich and famous out to play for the weekend, and the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas has been no exception to the rule.

A number of celebrities have descended on the Circuit of The Americas this weekend to catch some on-track action.

Some of the names have appeared in the F1 paddock before, but others are first-timers at COTA, keen to get a glimpse of one of the most exciting sports in the world.

Here’s a quick social run-down of the famous faces that have been spotted this weekend.

Tennis star Venus Williams was a guest of Mercedes on Saturday, and even took time to congratulate Lewis Hamilton following his charge to pole position.

Noted actor and villain in the latest James Bond film, Spectre, Christoph Waltz made an appearance in the Mercedes garage, receiving a tour from Hamilton himself.

American actress Rosa Salazar joined Waltz in the Mercedes garage.

NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon took some time out of his busy schedule to pay a visit to COTA, spotted here chatting to Nico Rosberg before the race.

F1 aficionado and TV chef Gordon Ramsay chatted with McLaren chief Ron Dennis ahead of the race – given McLaren’s excellent catering, it was probably not about the food…

McLaren’s other guest is literally out of this world: British astronaut Tim Peake.

Skateboarding star Ryan Scheckler has been with Red Bull all weekend, seen here swapping gear with Daniel Ricciardo.

Skier Lindsey Vonn received a birthday surprise from the Red Bull drivers.

Gerard Butler is another big F1 fan, seen here chatting with Red Bull team boss Christian Horner.

2016 Olympic triathlon champion Gwen Jorgensen also came along (not many free seats in the Red Bull garage!).

Verstappen unlikely to change style despite F1 defense rule clarification

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 22:  Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing in the garage during qualifying for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Max Verstappen doubts he will change his on-track racing style despite the FIA’s clarification of permitted defensive moves in Formula 1 ahead of Sunday’s United States Grand Prix.

Verstappen came under fire from his rivals in Hungary and Belgium earlier this year after appearing to move under braking, and was subject to a brief protest from Mercedes in Japan for the same reason.

Verstappen’s on-track moves were brought up in Friday’s drivers’ briefing at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, prompting FIA race director Charlie Whiting to clarify the rules regarding defensive moves.

Whiting confirmed that any move under braking that forces the car behind to take evasive action will be investigated by the stewards, appearing to clamp down on Verstappen’s moves.

However, the Dutchman told reporters on Saturday evening that he doubted it would have any effect on his approach or style on-track.

“I don’t think so. I think it’s good to make it more clear what’s allowed and what’s not,” Verstappen said, as quoted by Reuters.

“So far it said in the rules that you could go to the inside under braking. Now it’s not. So we’ll see how that’s going to affect the racing.”

Verstappen will start fourth on the grid in Sunday’s United States Grand Prix, live on NBC and the NBC Sports app from 2:30pm ET.

Hamilton: ‘Incredible’ to be closing in on Senna’s pole tally

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 22:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP waves to the crowd after qualifying in pole position during qualifying for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton finds it “incredible” to be closing in on Formula 1 legend Ayrton Senna’s tally of pole positions after adding to his haul in Austin, Texas on Saturday.

Hamilton scored the 58th pole of his F1 career in qualifying for the United States Grand Prix after edging out Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in Q3, recording the fastest ever lap around the Circuit of The Americas.

Hamilton trails only Michael Schumacher (68) and Senna (65) in the list for all-time poles in F1, the latter being an inspiration to the Briton throughout his junior racing days.

“Seven is still a long way to go but to think that I’m within shooting distance is incredible,” Hamilton said after qualifying at COTA.

“But it also just goes to show just how amazing a driver he was. To get as many poles as that in the amount of time that he had, it’s taken me a lot longer to get where I am so it was clearly phenomenal.”

At just 31 years old, Hamilton stands a good chance of becoming F1’s all-time pole position leader, particularly if Mercedes can continue its current domination of the sport over into the 2017 season.

In the running for the FIA Pole Trophy in 2016, Hamilton pulled clear of Rosberg in Austin, the pair previously tied for eight poles heading into the weekend. Daniel Ricciardo is the only other driver to have started a race from pole this year, leading the field away in Monaco.

Hamilton is bidding for his fourth victory at COTA in Sunday’s United States Grand Prix, live on NBC and the NBC Sports app from 2:30pm ET.

WATCH LIVE: USGP on NBC, NBC Sports app from 2:30 p.m. ET

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 22:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP and Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing shake hands in parc ferme  during qualifying for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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AUSTIN, Texas – After the three practice sessions were split three ways between Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Max Verstappen, Hamilton snatched the pole position for today’s United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas with a magical lap, at a circuit and in a country he pretty much loves.

The stage is then set for yet another battle between the Mercedes AMG Petronas teammates as they continue to fight for this year’s Formula 1 World Championship.

Hamilton, down 33 points to Rosberg heading into the 18th of 21 Grands Prix this season, realistically needs to make up a big chunk of points today if he is to secure a third consecutive title.

Rosberg can win the title with second-place finishes in each of the final four races, but he has said repeatedly he is going for race wins only and is not thinking about the championship. And at the moment, that strategy seems to be working for him.

But with Red Bull Racing on row two starting with a split strategy – Daniel Ricciardo on Pirelli’s supersoft tires and Max Verstappen on the slightly harder soft compounds – those two could throw a spanner in the works. Ricciardo loves the U.S. near as much as Hamilton, if not more so, and would be keen for another podium or perhaps his second win of the year.

And how will Haas F1 Team, America’s first F1 team in 30 years, fare in its first United States Grand Prix? It’s been a challenging weekend for Gene Haas’ team, but Esteban Gutierrez (14th) and Romain Grosjean (17th) will give it their all despite something of a downforce deficit.


You can watch the United States Grand Prix live on NBC and the NBC Sports App from 2:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, which is 1:30 p.m. CT and local time in Austin. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett will be on the call, and along with pit reporter Will Buxton, all are on the ground in Austin providing updates and interviews throughout the race.

Also be sure to follow the @F1onNBCSports Twitter account for live updates throughout the race.

2016 United States Grand Prix – Starting Grid

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
4. Max Verstappen Red Bull
5. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
6. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
7. Nico Hulkenberg Force India
8. Valtteri Bottas Williams
9. Felipe Massa Williams
10. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
11. Sergio Perez Force India
12. Fernando Alonso McLaren
13. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
14. Esteban Gutierrez Haas
15. Jolyon Palmer Renault
16. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
17. Romain Grosjean Haas
18. Kevin Magnussen Renault
19. Jenson Button McLaren
20. Pascal Wehrlein Manor
21. Felipe Nasr Sauber
22. Esteban Ocon Manor