Despite their best intentions, Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin race like rivals at Nashville

They are both championship favorites and continue to find themselves racing hard for wins

Both Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson are reluctant to embrace a rivalry, because they are genuinely close friends off the track, but they just keep having run-ins while racing for NASCAR Cup Series wins each week.

A week removed from a well-documented intra-squad tension in which both crew chief Cliff Daniels and spotter Tyler Monn suggested that Larson takes more from Hamlin than he gives, there were multiple points where the Hendrick Motorsports No. 5 was noticeably more aggressive towards the Joe Gibbs No. 11.

At one point, it very much drew the ire of Hamlin, who needed to be talked down by crew chief Chris Gabehart.

“He was just upset with the way that I was racing him at the end of the second stage,” Larson said. “But, it’s racing.”

Hamlin downplayed it afterwards.

“I thought it was fine. We were messing around with each other, like we were last week,” Hamlin. “We were battling for third right there on the stage and he ran me up, which was all good. I ran him up last week a little bit. On the restart with (Joey Logano), (he) was mad at me, but the (Larson) tried to clean us out there, and I think he tried to clean us out at the end there but got the 1, so it all worked out.”

Is there a rivalry from Larson’s standpoint.

“I don’t know,” Larson said. “I wouldn’t agree or disagree. I feel like it comes and goes. We race well together at times and there’s time where I feel like he races me not the fairest. I’m sure he feels the same way. It’s not an ongoing rivalry but there’s definitely weeks where it compiles.

“Hopefully we can move on from it soon and I can get some respect from him.”

Even in the late restart crash where Larson washed up into Chastain, it certainly looked like he drove in deep trying to force the issue with leader Hamlin.

He was.

“I was with Denny and I was going to try to wash him off the bottom to try to get myself some clean air,” Larson said. “I knew second row, inside or outside, I wasn’t going to have a shot. I thought my best shot to win was to give myself clean air. I just ran in deep, got tight, and drove into Ross. I hate that for him.”

Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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