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.”

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‘Halo’ F1 cockpit protection set for 2017 introduction

MONTMELO, SPAIN - MARCH 03:  Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and Ferrari tests the new halo head protection system on track during day three of F1 winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on March 3, 2016 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)
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Formula 1 chiefs have agreed to introduce the ‘Halo’ cockpit protection device for the 2017 season, according to reports.

Following the deaths of Jules Bianchi and IndyCar’s Justin Wilson in 2015 from head injuries sustained while racing, the FIA has placed improving cockpit safety high on its agenda.

The Halo was given its first public run-out during pre-season testing, the structure being attached to the cockpit at three points.

Reviews of Mercedes’ design were mixed, with concerns also being raised about the obstruction of the driver’s vision and the time it would take to leave the cockpit.

Red Bull offered its solution to improving head protection in practice for the Russian Grand Prix, debuting the ‘aeroscreen’ that acts more like a canopy in a fighter jet.

The aeroscreen again split opinion, but was deemed to be a viable option for possible implementation in 2017 by the FIA after significant progress had been made in its development.

However, multiple reports ahead of qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix claim that a decision has now been taken to introduce a refined version of the Halo next season.

BBC Sport reported that the aeroscreen remains on the table and may be introduced in 2018, but has been shelved for next year after an “unexpectedly poor performance in a recent test”.

The Halo will undergo further testing before a final decision is taken over the summer, with approval from the F1 Strategy Group, the F1 Commission and the FIA World Motor Sport Council required.

Vettel quickest in closely-fought final practice in Monaco

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 28: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track during final practice ahead of the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 28, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel closed out practice for the Monaco Grand Prix with the fastest time after edging out his Mercedes and Red Bull rivals in a tight battle on Saturday morning.

Red Bull had led the way on Thursday as Daniel Ricciardo put the Pirelli ultra-soft tires and his upgraded Renault engine to good use, but it could not repeat this form ahead of qualifying.

The session offered a raging battle between Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari as all three teams enjoyed spells at the top of the timesheets. Ricciardo’s pace shone through once again early in the session, but it was Vettel who ultimately finished fastest.

A lap of 1:14.650 was enough to edge out Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton by just 0.018 seconds, with Nico Rosberg following in the sister Mercedes a further one-tenth of a second behind.

Ricciardo was forced to settle for P4 for Red Bull as traffic prevented him from completing a late qualifying simulation, while teammate Max Verstappen finished just behind in P5.

Verstappen was fortunate not to damage his Red Bull RB12 car when he locked up at Massenet and bumped into the wall. Remarkably, the glancing blow only damaged his front wing, leaving Verstappen’s team with a minimal repair job ahead of qualifying.

Toro Rosso continued its strong start to the weekend as Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr. finished sixth and seventh respectively, finishing within striking distance of the leading three teams.

Sergio Perez ended the session eighth-fastest for Force India, while Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and teammate Nico Hulkenberg rounded out the top 10.

Final practice saw a number of drivers making use of the slip roads as they found the limit during their qualifying simulations.

Esteban Gutierrez, Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg all ran wide at points, while Renault had another miserable session after Jolyon Palmer spun at the Swimming Pool chicane and damaged the rear of his car.

Up front though, with just one second separating the top nine cars and less than two-tenths covering Vettel, Hamilton, Rosberg and Ricciardo, the stage appears to be set for a close battle for pole position later today.

Qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 8am ET on Saturday.

Pirelli offers first public glimpse of wider F1 tires for 2017

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Pirelli has revealed its new wider tire models for the 2017 Formula 1 season, harking back to the rubber used in the 1970s and 1980s.

As part of the overhaul being undertaken on the technical regulations for next year, Pirelli was asked to produce wider and more durable tires, and received 25 days of testing to prepare for their implementation.

At an event in Monaco on Saturday morning, Pirelli offered a public glimpse of the new tires for the first time, fitted to a show car.

The Italian supplier also released an accompanying video and statement explaining the changes.

“Pirelli has already begun track testing tires in the current size but with constructions and compounds for 2017, using cars that are two or three years old,” the statement read.

“From roughly the beginning of August, current or 2015 cars will be tested on track equipped with the first prototype F1 tires in the new size. And we’re talking about a considerable increase: the front tire grows from 245 to 305 millimeters wide (which is nearly the same width as the current rear) while the 2017 rear grows from 325 to 405 millimeters.

“The diameter stays more or less the same, with a slight increase from 660 millimeters to 670 millimeters (the same as the current rain tire diameter, except with a slick rather than patterned surface). The wheel size remains the same as it has always been: 13 inches, giving Formula 1 a unique look that it doesn’t yet want to renounce.

“Nonetheless, as a showcase of what is possible, Pirelli has already successfully demonstrated 18-inch tyres on track and remains open to investigating even larger sizes in future.

“In order to give an idea of the scope of the changes without getting too bogged down in mathematics, the front tire will become nearly 25% wider, while the rear tyre becomes more than 30% wider. There will be a corresponding increase in the tire footprint: the amount of tire that is physically in contact with the ground at any given point.

“This is where the extra grip comes from, enhancing each car’s ability to put its power down onto the ground, leading to more performance through corners as well as under acceleration and braking.”

Ferrari reserve driver Jean-Eric Vergne completed a test with the new compounds earlier this month at Fiorano using a 2014-spec car.

The Frenchman was impressed by Pirelli’s developments, telling NBC Sports that he thought 2017 would be “great” for F1 tires.

The wider tires will undoubtedly help F1’s drive to make the cars look more aggressive, while the additional grip will contribute to the multiple second gain in lap time that is coveted.

Tony Kanaan woos IMS after posting fastest Carb Day lap

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 27:  Tony Kanaan of Brazil, driver of the #10 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Dallara, practices during Carb Day ahead of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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“I think this track will pick the winner,” Tony Kanaan told reporters Friday after Carb Day practice was completed for the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

“So I’m trying to massage the track a little bit, talk to her nicely, and then see if she will pick me on Sunday.”

Kanaan certainly impressed the 2.5-mile ‘lady’ in practice, by posting a fastest lap of 226.280 mph that would seem to have her shunning all other suitors. Carlos Munoz set the second-fastest speed, but he was nearly a quarter of a second per lap slower with a speed of 224.772 mph.

Speeds were largely dependent on tows in the final tune-up for Sunday’s race.

All 33 drivers who qualified for the 100th running of the Indy 500 tried their dead-level best to impress the track. They raced side-by-side through the corners and filled the course with cars. For most of the session, a majority of the drivers were on course at the same time, and that surprised many.

“You should have asked me, I would have told you different,” Kanaan said.

“This is the closest we get to the race, two days, and after being here for almost a month, the engineers come up with different plans every day,” Kanaan added. “The more time you give them, the more they come up with stuff. And we had almost five days without being on track, so they go back to the shop and do simulations. So we had to test.”

Race conditions will be markedly different than what everyone faced in qualification and that is another reason so many cars were on track. It is also one reason Kanaan was so pleased with his time.

If a full field had not practiced, no one would truly know what they would face on Sunday. “Everybody is eager to feel how the car behaves in traffic. So it was a race out there today.”

Kanaan was pleased with the response he got from Indy.

“I’m happy with my car,” Kanaan said. “Obviously I have to pass 17 people before I get really happy with my car. But, you know, after the struggle in qualifying, we really focused on the race.”

Kanaan will start 18th, alongside Juan Pablo Montoya and close behind some other top-ranked drivers.

“One thing that eases my mind a little bit being back there, there are a lot of good guys back there with me,” Kanaan added. “You know, if you look around Montoya, Charlie Kimball, Scott Dixon, they’re very experienced guys back there, which sometimes it’s not the case.”

“So I really don’t have a plan. My plan is to start the race. If there is a gap, I’m going to go for it.”

Indy occasionally rewards spontaneity, so Kanaan’s fastest speed in final practice may be a strong indication of his odds of winning his second Indy 500. His first victory came in 2013.

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