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Kyle Larson pours it on, wins Cup Series’ first race at Nashville Superspeedway

Kyle Larson continued his streak of superiority Sunday afternoon, winning the Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway — his third consecutive win, following three consecutive runner-up finishes. He hasn’t finished worse than second place in a NASCAR Cup Series race since May 2.

It’s a high performance mark the series hasn’t seen in more than a decade when former Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson won four straight points-paying races in 2007. Larson’s win Sunday was his third straight points-paying victory, but he also won the All-Star Race $1 million-to-win exhibition last week at Texas Motor Speedway.

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Larson’s No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet led Ross Chastain and Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 Chevrolet across the Nashville finish line by 4.335 seconds. He paced the field by as much as five seconds in the closing 10 laps of this inaugural event. And that fourth winner’s trophy is a series best on the season.

There were 14 lead changes among seven drivers, but only two other drivers led double-digit laps — Chase Elliott (13) and Kyle Busch (10).

“It was a great day,” Larson said, smiling at the understatement. “We never really had to run behind people, so I don’t know if one of my teammates got out front again, it probably would have been hard to pass them.

“This Valvoline Chevrolet was really good. It cut the middle of the corner really well and our pit crew did an awesome job again. I just hope we can keep it going.”

Larson led 264 of the 300 laps at the 1.333-mile Nashville track in the first NASCAR Cup Series race in the city since 1984. The effort marked the fourth time this season Larson has led at least 200 laps in a race and the fifth time he has led more than half the total laps in a race.

Only 17 races into the 36-race season, Larson has already eclipsed his previous season-best laps led. He has been out front 1,426 laps. His previous season-best total was 1,352 laps led in 2017.

Larson, who now has 10 career NASCAR Cup Series wins, has led 82% of all laps run during this current three-race winning streak. His Hendrick teammate, Elliott, – who was disqualified for having five loose lug nuts – won Stage 1 but lost the mini victory with his DQ; Kurt Busch ended up with the stage win. Larson answered with the Stage 2 victory – his 12th of the season, which is double that of any other driver.

Larson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, William Byron, looked to give the team its fifth straight 1-2 finish, rallying from the rear of the grid. He was running second until the final 10 laps when Chastain got around him. Byron finished third, followed by polesitter Aric Almirola and his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Kevin Harvick.

The fourth-place finish was Almirola’s best of the season. Harvick’s fifth-place run was his best in the last six races.

“We had a good car, just, my goodness, we don’t have anything for those Chevrolets right now,” said Almirola, who drives the No. 10 SHR Ford. “They’re making grip and they’re getting up off the corner. It’s so hard to race with them.

“But we have made huge strides to close the gap. Our race team is doing a great job scrounging and scrapping to build better race cars and it’s nice to come here and run up front, run in the top five and at least be in the mix.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Daniel Suarez, Kurt Busch, Christopher Bell and Joey Logano rounded out the top 10. It marked Stenhouse’s second top 10 of the season and the third for Suarez in the new No. 99 Trackhouse Racing team, which hosted co-owner, superstar performer Pitbull at Nashville.

NASCAR Cup Series championship leader Denny Hamlin had to pit for fuel with two laps remaining dropping from a top-10 result. He finished 22nd — the second time he has finished outside the top 10 in the last six races and now holds a slim nine-point championship lead over Larson.

The NASCAR Cup Series moves to Pocono Raceway for a doubleheader weekend. Race 1 will be Saturday (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The Explore the Pocono Mountains 350 (Sunday, 3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) completes the weekend.

NOTE: Laron’s race-winning No. 5 Chevrolet passed NASCAR’s post-race inspection, thus confirming his victory. Elliott’s No. 9 Chevy, however, was disqualified for five loose lug nuts. The No. 19 Toyota of Truex had one loose lug nut but was not disqualified.