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Larson edges Buescher at the line at Kansas Speedway in closest finish in NASCAR Cup Series history

APTOPIX NASCAR Kansas Auto Racing
Posted at 11:17 PM, May 05, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Kyle Larson came roaring around the outside of Chris Buescher on the final lap at Kansas Speedway, banging doors with him all the way to the finish line, only to be told by his team over the radio that everything he had given was not quite enough.

It wasn't until Larson was in Turn 3 of the cool-down lap that he saw his spotter, Tyler Monn, dancing high above the track.

In the closest finish in NASCAR history, one that only became official with a grainy black-and-white photo at the line, the No. 5 car was declared the winner by a thousandth of a second — every bit as close as the Kentucky Derby a day earlier, and an even more dramatic finish than the three-at-the-line conclusion to the Cup Series race at Atlanta earlier this season.

“Had no clue if I won or not," Larson said, "but honestly didn't really care. I was like, ‘Man, that was frickin' awesome.'”

Not so awesome for Buescher's team, which had begun celebrating before the result became official. His crew chief, Scott Graves, asked to meet with NASCAR officials in their hauler. Shown the finish-line photo, he accepted the outcome.

“I don’t know what to say right now,” Buescher said, shaking his head while standing beside his No. 17 car. “I haven’t seen a replay other than just the picture, and I sure can’t see in that picture. That sucks to be that close.”

The edge-of-your-seat finish came after a caution for Kyle Busch's spin forced the green-white-checkered finish. Larson had pulled behind Buescher on the backstretch of the last lap, then came around him in the final corner. To the naked eye, Buescher looked as if he had edged ahead, and even Larson had started to congratulate his team on a strong second-place run.

A few minutes later, he was doing a celebratory burnout on the front stretch.

It was a brilliant start to a busy month of May for Larson, who will attempt to run the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day Memorial Day weekend. The win was his second of the season for Hendrick Motorsports, and it gave him a bit of retribution after finishing second to Denny Hamlin last week at Dover and in the spring race at Kansas a year ago.

Martin Truex Jr. finished fourth Sunday and Hamlin, who had the lead on the final restart, faded back to fifth place.

“Had a great view of the finish,” Hamlin said with a smile.

Making the finish an even bigger bummer for Buescher was the fact that he had overcome a big miscue midway through the race. He had just won the second stage and led the field to pit road when a crew member came over the wall early. The penalty sent him to the rear, and Buescher had to spend much of the final stage working his way back to the front.

Ultimately, Buescher's team opted for a different pit strategy than the other leaders. So did Hamlin's team, which had survived its own share of pit problems. And it might have worked out for both of them had the race finished under green.

Instead, the late caution forced the leaders to pit, and set up a finish that went down in NASCAR history.

“I mean, I'll always remember this, for sure," Larson said. "There's definitely wins that you can kind of get lost in the distance a little bit, but when you finish and have the closest finish in Cup Series history, I don't think you're ever going to forget about it, even if it gets broken someday. Great to be on this side of it.”

BEST OF THE REST

Christopher Bell started on the pole but struggled to run up front all day in a race that began after a 3 1/2-hour rain delay. He finished sixth, and was followed by Alex Bowman and Kyle Busch, whose spin brought out the last caution. Noah Gragson and Michael McDowell joined Buescher in giving Ford, which has yet to win this season, three cars in the top 10.

YELLOW FLAGS

There were no cautions other than for stage breaks until Jimmie Johnson wrecked with 91 laps to go. The seven-time champion, back in the No. 84 for the second consecutive week, was hit from behind by Corey LaJoie after he had checked up.

“Just trying to set up for the corner, I got a little help from behind and just kind of hanging on from there,” Johnson said.

The yellow flags then came in quickly: Hamlin made contact with Austin Cindric, sending the No. 2 into a wreck that spun out Bubba Wallace and McDowell. Harrison Burton wrecked on the restart, then Joey Logano did on the next one.

ODDS AND ENDS

Corey Heim, who won the Truck Series race Saturday night, finished 22nd while subbing for Erik Jones in the No. 43 car for Legacy Motor Club. ... Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was 16th in his first race since signing a contract extension with JTG Daugherty Racing. He also did it after going for a wild ride in his sprint car Saturday night at nearby Lakeside Speedway. ... Gragson has had strong back-to-back weeks after finishing sixth at Dover. ... The series heads to Darlington next for its annual throwback weekend.