Auto racing roundup: Kyle Larson unstoppable at Nashville Superspeedway

AP photo by John Amis / Kyle Larson walks back to his car with the checkered flag after winning Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series race at Nashville Superspeedway in Lebanon, Tenn.

LEBANON, Tenn. - Even at a track that had been dormant for a decade and had never hosted a Cup Series race, Kyle Larson found his way to victory lane.

It seems all Larson does these days is win, and this time it was during the first visit by NASCAR's top circuit to Nashville Superspeedway. Hendrick Motorsports' new star led 264 of 300 laps Sunday for his third consecutive win in a points race and his fourth straight in a Cup Series event including the previous weekend's NASCAR All-Star race.

That win at Texas Motor Speedway kicked off a stretch of four wins overall in seven days as Larson collected the $1 million All-Star payout, then traveled to Ohio to pocket the $6,000 purses in two sprint car races.

Rick Hendrick's cars have been to victory lane six consecutive weeks dating to Alex Bowman's May 16 win at Dover International Speedway.

Nashville Superspeedway - which closed in 2011 after a decade hosting NASCAR national series events (but none for the Cup Series) as well as some IndyCar races - reopened for a three-day weekend capped by Sunday's action. NASCAR's top series had last raced in the Nashville area 37 years earlier at the Fairgrounds, where Geoff Bodine won in the No. 5 Chevrolet for Hendrick.

To celebrate his win in his new No. 5, Larson did burnouts along the entire front stretch.

"There's a lot of fans out there, and we had enough rubber and enough fuel there to do a good burnout at the end," the 28-year-old Larson said after the 10th win of his Cup Series career.

Next up for Larson is a trip to Brandon, South Dakota, for World of Outlaws races at Huset's Speedway on Monday and Tuesday.

His fourth Cup Series points win of the season was the first with sponsor Valvoline on his hood, which marked just the third time in 17 races so far this season that Larson featured a non-Hendrick company on his car. He's largely unsponsored after missing all but four races last season during a NASCAR-issued suspension for using a racial slur while participating in an online race, which led to him losing his ride at Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ganassi driver Ross Chastain finished second Sunday, while Hendrick's William Byron was third to complete a Chevrolet podium sweep.

"My goodness, we don't have anything for those Chevrolets right now," said Ford driver Aric Almirola, who finished fourth after starting in pole position.

Almirola was followed by Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick for one of the better days this season for the slumping organization. The pair of top-five finishes came the same day SHR co-owner Tony Stewart was at a Cup Series race for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

The race was a sellout with close to 40,000 spectators in the grandstands, temporary seating and suites, but traffic problems leading to the venue delayed the start by 10 minutes.

NASCAR asked television partner NBC Sports to push back its first Cup Series race of the season to allow for more fans to get seated before the green flag dropped, but NBC Sports Network had an NHL playoff game scheduled Sunday night and could only afford a short delay.

Nashville Superspeedway is 28 miles east of downtown Music City.

Xfinity Series driver Noah Gragson and Cup Series rookie Chase Briscoe's wife Marissa were among those caught in the congestion. Gragson wrote on Twitter that he had "been in traffic for 2 hours. Brutal." Marissa tweeted that the Briscoes would be "going motorhome shopping when we get home."

Nashville Superspeedway opened in 2001 and hosted 21 Xfinity Series races and 13 Truck Series events before closing due to striking out when it came to landing a coveted Cup Series date. Dover Motorsports owns the track and moved one of its weekends from its Delaware venue to Nashville to reopen the speedway and at last host a Cup Series race as NASCAR awarded the track a four-year sanctioning agreement.

Next up for the Cup Series is a doubleheader weekend with Saturday and Sunday race at Pocono Raceway. Larson has never won at that track, but with two chances coming up, it might simply be a matter of time.

IndyCar: Penske's problems persist

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. - Alex Palou believed his car had enough speed to outduel Josef Newgarden on Sunday in the final few laps at Road America. An unexpected mechanical problem for Newgarden made the task much easier.

Palou sailed past the two-time IndyCar Series champion on a restart with two laps remaining to win and move back atop the season points standings. It marked the third consecutive race a Team Penske car dominated but did not win because late cautions altered what seemed to be certain victories.

"We started struggling compared to Josef," said Palou, a 24-year-old Spaniard in his second IndyCar season and first with Chip Ganassi Racing. "He was super fast. He was flying. But by the end I was able to be there with him, so I think we had the faster car at the end. I knew that we had a bit better straight-line speed."

Palou won by 1.9106 seconds over Colton Herta of Andretti Autosport, with Will Power third, Scott Dixon fourth and Romain Grosjean fifth. Newgarden wound up 21st

The victory gives Palou a 28-point lead over Pato O'Ward, who finished ninth Sunday. Palou entered the weekend trailing O'Ward by a point.

"There's a lot of movement on points," Palou said. "It's going to keep it going until the last race, I think."

Newgarden started in pole position and led 32 of the 55 laps on the 4.048-mile, 14 turn course until Ed Jones' spin brought out a yellow flag with four to go. Newgarden got a good jump on the restart, but Palou dipped left and sped around him for the lead.

"I couldn't get it to shift into sixth gear," Newgarden said. "And then I got it stuck in fifth in turn one and finally got it to go down, but just could not get it to upshift after that. So I got it down to first essentially. So just trying to stay out of the way after that because I couldn't get it to upshift."

Newgarden has led 99 of 125 laps the past two races but doesn't have a win to show for it. The 30-year-old Tennessee native was denied a victory a week earlier in Detroit when O'Ward ran him down after another late restart.

The driver who led the most laps has not won in IndyCar the past six races, and Team Penske is still seeking its first victory of the year through nine races. It's the deepest into a season the organization has gone without a victory since a winless 1999.

Penske's Power lost the first race of last weekend's doubleheader in Detroit because his car wouldn't start after a late red flag.

Formula One: Red Bull rising

Lewis Hamilton's wish for a closer Formula One title fight is coming true - and Max Verstappen looks like a rival who will take some stopping, judging by his impressive win at the French Grand Prix.

It was Verstappen's second win in three races, and it extended his lead over Hamilton to 12 points. Each driver has two pole positions and three wins, with both failing to score points in the other race.

It's proving a remarkable contest between Hamilton - the 36-year-old British legend whose record-tying seven season championships include the past four - and Verstappen, the 23-year-old Belgian-Dutch driver seeking his first crown in the series.

Hamilton crushed the competition last year to win by 124 points after doing so by 87 points in 2019 and by 88 in 2018. It's looking far, far closer this year.

Verstappen overtook Hamilton on lap 52 of 53 in Sunday's race, using the drag reduction system to pass on the inside before zooming to the 13th victory of his career. A bonus point for the fastest lap made it a great day for Red Bull, which had never beaten Mercedes on the Paul Ricard circuit in southern France.

Verstappen, who started on the pole and won by 2.9 seconds, has 131 points to Hamilton's 119 in the season standings.

Red Bull's Sergio Perez sneaked past a dejected Valtteri Bottas to finish third and strengthen Red Bull's lead in the constructors' championship race: 215 points to Mercedes' 178.

Red Bull has won three straight races, with the other going to Perez, and Hamilton sounded concerned.

"We've got to find some pace, that's for sure," he said. "Most of the time we lost today was just the straights."