Sunday's motorsports: Larson romps to yet another victory for Hendrick Motorsports

Associated Press

Lebanon, Tenn. — Kyle Larson won his fourth race in seven days then finally headed home to sleep in his own bed.

For a night, anyway.

The busiest driver in motorsports won again Sunday in the Cup debut at Nashville Superspeedway, where Larson drove to NASCAR’s victory lane for the fourth consecutive week.

Kyle Larson celebrates with the winner's guitar after winning a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Nashville Superspeedway Sunday, June 20, 2021, in Lebanon, Tenn.

Sandwiched in between his $1 million victory in the All-Star race at Texas last Sunday and his Cup-leading fourth victory of the season at Nashville were two dirt racing wins in Ohio worth $6,000 each to the winner. Next up for Larson: Brandon, South Dakota, for Monday and Tuesday night World of Outlaws races at Huset’s Speedway.

“All of the racing helps for everything I do. I win a Cup race and it helps me for dirt racing,” Larson said. “I think just racing a lot — I’m in racing situations more than anybody else in the world, really — but especially in Cup and I think that helps me stay sharp, it helps me be aggressive and understand what things are doing and tracks changing.

“You’re just getting into a rhythm and staying in a rhythm when none of these (Cup) guys are getting back in the car until Saturday. I think it’s a big advantage for me to be in a car multiple times a week.”

Larson led 264 of 300 laps at Nashville for his third consecutive win in a points race, fourth straight including the All-Star race. The Chevrolets from Hendrick Motorsports have won six consecutive weeks dating to Alex Bowman’s May 16 win at Dover.

“My goodness, we don’t have anything for those Chevrolets right now,” said Aric Almirola, the highest-finishing non-Chevrolet driver at fourth in a Ford. He started from the pole.

Nashville Superspeedway re-opened this weekend after a decade of dormancy to host its first ever Cup race. NASCAR’s top series last raced in the Nashville-area 37 years ago at the Fairgrounds, where Geoff Bodine won in the No. 5 Chevrolet for Rick Hendrick in his first season as a team owner.

Hendrick is the winningest organization in NASCAR with 271 wins. Larson gave his new boss the record 269th victory three points races ago at Charlotte.

Nashville is the 30th track a Hendrick car has won at and Larson did in his own No. 5 Chevrolet to bring Hendrick full circle on racing in Music City.

“To be here and have this many victories, to see that car back on track, it never gets old,” Hendrick said. “We’re happy to be here. I love this place. I love the crowd. It felt like old times. It felt like we were back years ago with the fans excited, shoulder to shoulder.”

Larson celebrated with burnouts along the entire frontstretch to put on a show for the sold-out crowd of 40,000. He then collected the traditional Gibson guitar gifted to the winner.

“I think fans can appreciate me because I do it in all different types of forms of racing, not just NASCAR. You don’t know what car I’m going to be in on what day of the week,” Larson said. “Because I’m a little bit different than your normal race car driver, I think that’s why fans so far seem to still cheer me on and like to see me winning.”

But his extracurricular racing will likely come to an end in September when the playoffs begin, Hendrick said.

“I want him happy. I don’t want him hurt,” Hendrick said. “He just eats, sleeps and drinks racing. He wants to win every race. I think about him getting tired. But if you run 600 miles, go win another race that night, win two more races... his stamina is unbelievable. But I’ve never seen anybody more intense that wants to race every minute of every day, and he wants to win.”

Ross Chastain finished second for Chip Ganassi Racing and Hendrick driver William Byron was third in a Chevrolet podium sweep.

Almirola and Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick rounded out the top-five in one of the better days for the slumping organization. The finishes came the same day team co-owner Tony Stewart was at his first Cup race since the start of the pandemic.

Reigning Cup champion Chase Elliott, another Hendrick driver, finished 13th but was disqualified after four loose lug nuts were found on his car in post-race inspection.

More Sunday motorsports

Palou makes late surge to win IndyCar race at Road America

Elkhart Lake, Wis. — Alex Palou believed his car had enough speed to outduel Josef Newgarden in the final few laps at Road America.

An unexpected mechanical issue for Newgarden made the task much easier.

Palou sailed past Newgarden on a restart with two laps remaining to win Sunday’s race and move back atop the IndyCar 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.

Alex Palou celebrates his victory in an IndyCar race at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisc., Sunday, June 20, 2021.

“We started struggling compared to Josef,” Palou said. “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. Will Power was third, Scott Dixon fourth and Romain Grosjean fifth.

The victory gives Palou a 28-point lead over Pato O’Ward, who finished ninth in Sunday’s race. Palou entered the weekend trailing O’Ward by one 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 from the pole and led 32 of the 55 laps until Ed Jones’ spin brought out the yellow with four to go. Newgarden got a good jump on the restart but Palou dipped left and sped around him for the lead.

Newgarden had a mechanical problem and plummeted from the lead to a 21st-place finish.

“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 after that."

Newgarden has led 99 of 125 laps the last two IndyCar races but doesn’t have a win to show for it. He was denied a victory a week ago in Detroit when O’Ward ran him down following another late restart.

“Obviously its disappointing for all of us. I know we had a great car,” Newgarden said. “We had a rocket ship. I think we have fast cars, its just not working out right now. But now we will claw. We will claw our way back. This is not what I was planning for this day.”

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

“I can’t believe the luck having as a team right now. It blows my mind,” said Penske driver Power.

It was the second consecutive weekend a mechanical problem doomed Team Penske. Power lost the first race of last weekend’s doubleheader in Detroit because his car wouldn’t start after a late red flag.

“You just don’t know what it is about our team right now,” Power said. “We almost have a win in the bag and something just ridiculous happens. I don’t know what it was, but things you couldn’t prep for, something you couldn’t avoid. My thing was just a switch, just a weird glitch in the system, in Detroit.

"I don’t know what his was this time, but unbelievable. Maybe it wouldn’t have happened if there wasn’t a restart. You don’t know.”

Palou became the first Chip Ganassi Racing driver other than Scott Dixon to win multiple races in a season since Dario Franchitti in 2011. Palou earned his first career win in the season opener at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama.

Chip Ganassi Racing has won the last three IndyCar events on Road America's 4.048-mile, 14 turn course. Dixon and Felix Rosenqvist won the two races in a Road America doubleheader last year.

Palou, Dixon and Marcus Ericsson put three of Ganassi's four cars inside the top-six at Road America. Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson was 22nd in Ganassi's fourth car.

Cody Shane Ware, who typically competes in NASCAR, finished 19th in his IndyCar debut. Kevin Magnussen, Grosjean's teammate in Formula One until both were released at the end of last season, was 24th in his IndyCar debut. The Danish driver was the replacement for Rosenqvist, who now drives for Arrow McLaren SP and was injured last week in a crash at Detroit.

“I’m going to leave here with a big smile on my face although we didn’t finish the race due to a mechanical issue,” Magnussen said. "I’ve had a very fun experience and want to say thank you to everyone involved.”

Oliver Askew was 12th as the injury replacement for Rinus VeeKay, who broke his collarbone Monday when fell of his bicycle during a training ride. VeeKay was fifth in points before missing Sunday's race and is now sixth in the standings.

Verstappen pushing Hamilton hard in thrilling F1 title race

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 on Sunday.

It was Verstappen's second win in three races, and 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.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands celebrates from the podium after winning during the French Formula One Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard racetrack in Le Castellet, southern France, Sunday, June 20, 2021.

It's proving a remarkable contest between the 36-year-old defending champion and the 23-year-old would-be usurper to his crown.

A much more exciting one, too, considering Hamilton crushed the competition last year to win by 124 points, 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. He used the DRS system to pass him 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.

It was a close call, though, with Red Bull's gamble on a two-stop strategy for Verstappen countered by a one-stopper for Hamilton as Mercedes kept him out on the same tires.

With five laps left, Hamilton was 3.5 seconds ahead.

Verstappen quickly ate into that lead, kept calm and then positioned himself perfectly to attack on a long straight in the way Hamilton has done countless times in his record 98 wins.

“When we made the call to do a two-stop, luckily it paid off,” Verstappen said. “We had to work hard for it.”

Verstappen, who won by 2.9 seconds, has 131 points to Hamilton's 119.

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

“We pulled the trigger and we went with the two-stopper and it worked. And great job from Sergio making the one-stop work,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said. “The strategy guys are working the numbers and they go for it.”

Verstappen took an impressive pole position ahead of Hamilton and his teammate Bottas.

Verstappen got away cleanly, but then made a basic error cutting the kerb on Turn 1 and gifted Hamilton the lead.

“In the beginning it was so difficult with the wind. Really difficult to keep the car stable,” Verstappen said. “Just lost the rear, tried to correct it, correct it, correct it, but it kept going.”

He made up for it, and heads confidently into the Styrian GP in a week's time on Red Bull's home track; followed by the Austrian GP a week later on the same circuit, nestled in the Styrian mountains.

Verstappen has already matched his career best for a season with three wins and looks a major threat for Hamilton, who is trying to win a record eighth F1 title to move one ahead of Michael Schumacher.

Red Bull has thrown down a huge marker to Mercedes, which has won every drivers’ and constructors’ championship since 2014. The previous four years were Red Bull doubles with Sebastian Vettel at the wheel, and Mercedes is under pressure now.

“I think it will be like this the rest of the season,” Verstappen said, smiling.

Red Bull have won three straight races, the other going to Perez, and Hamilton is sounding concerned.

“We’ve got to find some pace, that’s for sure," the British driver said. "Most of the time we lost today was just the straights.”

Lando Norris finished fifth for McLaren, again beating his more experienced teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who was sixth ahead of Pierre Gasly's AlphaTauri and two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso in eighth.

It was another disappointing day for Bottas, who is fighting to keep his seat next year.

He is only fifth in the standings behind Norris and Perez.

First, Bottas was overtaken by Verstappen after an undercut on Red Bull failed to work and then Perez overtook him almost as easily as Verstappen had done.

“Why did no one listen to me when I say this should’ve been a two-stopper?" the frustrated Finnish driver barked on team radio.

Verstappen led by three seconds when his team changed tires for the second time on Lap 34, anticipating a similar move from Mercedes.

It looked like Red Bull may have got it wrong, but Verstappen proved them right to strike a blow in a thrilling title fight.