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Larson edges Buescher in closest-recorded Cup Series finish at Kansas

In the blink of an eye, Kyle Larson went from being beaten to a photo finish that set a new record for the closest margin of victory in the NASCAR Cup Series division after edging Chris Buescher to score a wild win y in the rain-delayed AdventHealth 400 at Kansas Speedway on Sunday, May 5. 

The 2021 Cup Series champion from Elk Grove, California, led six times for 63 of 268 over-scheduled laps in an event where he was competitive from his fourth-place starting spot as he battled against NASCAR’s elite towards the front for the majority of the event. Then, after initially being poised for a top-six run, a caution for a spin involving Kyle Busch with seven laps remaining generated an opportunity for Larson, who opted for a two-tire pit stop to line up in third place behind Denny Hamlin and Chris Buescher. After attempting to make a three-wide move on both during the start of an overtime shootout, Larson settled behind Buescher, who would fend off an early challenge by Larson to retain the lead and start the final lap.

During the final lap, however, Larson then seized an opportunity to make a move to Buescher’s outside entering the final turn and despite getting both rubbed and squeezed by Buescher towards the wall, he managed to muscle ahead by a hair. With Buescher fighting back and both drivers refusing to step off the throttle as they made contact twice approaching the finish line, Larson and Buescher crossed the finish line dead even. Larson would be declared the race winner by 0.001 seconds, which eclipsed the previous margin of finish record of 0.002 seconds, as he notched his second NASCAR Cup Series victory of the 2024 season in dramatic fashion.

With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Saturday, May 4, Christopher Bell notched his first Cup pole position of the 2024 season and the 11th of his career after posting a pole-winning lap at 183.107 mph in 29.491 seconds in his No. 20 Yahoo! Toyota Camry XSE. Joining him on the front row was Ross Chastain, who clocked in the second-fastest qualifying lap time at 182.704 mph in 29.556 seconds. 

When the green flag waved and the event commenced following a delay period of more than three hours due to inclement weather, Bell and Chastain battled for the lead through the first two turns and the backstretch as the field behind fanned out to three lanes. With the field still fanned out, Bell managed to edge Chastain to lead the first lap from the outside lane, but Chastain kept his car dead even against Bell for the following lap and in an early bid for the lead.  

Prior to the third lap, Chastain, who edged Bell to lead the second lap, managed to muscle his No. 1 Busch Light Crocs Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 ahead of Bell through the backstretch as he had both lanes to his control. With Chastain leading Bell, Noah Gragson followed suit in third place followed by Kyle Larson while a three-wide battle for fifth place occurred between Kyle Busch, Austin Cindric and Ty Gibbs. Gibbs would prevail while running the outside lane as he muscled away from Busch and Cindric as Chastain proceeded to lead the fifth lap mark. 

Through the first 10 scheduled laps, Chastain, who nearly lost the lead to Bell a few laps earlier, was leading by a tenth of a second over a hard-charging Larson, who assumed the runner-up spot from Bell a lap earlier, as Bell followed suit in third while Gibbs, Gragson, Busch, Chris Buescher, Cindric, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. were running in the top 10. Behind, Michael McDowell trailed in 11th ahead of Alex Bowman, Tyler Reddick, Chase Elliott and Joey Logano as John Hunter Nemechek, Chase Briscoe, Bubba Wallace, Austin Dillon and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. trailed in the top 20 ahead of Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, rookie Carson Hocevar, William Byron and Corey Heim. 

Ten laps later, Chastain stabilized his early advantage to two-tenths of a second over Larson while Bell, Gibbs and Buescher were scored in the top five ahead of Gragson, Busch, Hamlin, Cindric and Truex. Meanwhile, Jimmie Johnson, who qualified 19th, had fallen to 32nd as he was trailing rookie Josh Berry and Daniel Suarez on the track while Austin Hill, Derek Kraus, Daniel Hemric, Harrison Burton, Riley Herbst and Ryan Preece were running towards the rear of the 38-car field. 

Another 12 laps later, a cycle of green flag pit stops commenced as Truex pitted his No. 19 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota Camry XSE along with Alex Bowman, Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney and Bubba Wallace. The leader Chastain would pit under green on Lap 33, followed by Larson, Gibbs, Buescher, Gragson and a bevy of competitors as Bell and Busch remained on the track. While more drivers, including Bell, pit by Lap 35, Chastain and Larson engaged in a heated battle to emerge as the first competitor who recently pitted on the track while Derek Kraus, who has yet to pit, was leading. 

On Lap 41, Chastain zipped by Kraus to reassume the race lead on the track as Larson, who was battling Chastain tightly for the lead a few laps earlier, followed suit in second. Both Chastain and Larson would be separated by a tenth of a second by the Lap 45 mark while Gibbs, who moved into third place, trailed the two leaders by more than two seconds as Buescher and Bell trailed in the top five by three seconds. 

At the Lap 50 mark, both Chastain and Larson continued to engage in a heated battle for the lead with both swapping lanes, remaining dead even against one another’s entries, pulling crossover moves on one another through the turns and refusing to give an inch to one another. With Chastain and Larson continuing to battle dead even for the lead during the proceeding laps, third-place Gibbs started to close in as he trailed the two leaders by six-tenths of a second while fourth-place Hamlin only trailed by a second. Larson would then manage to emerge ahead by two-tenths of a second over Chastain by Lap 53 and he would proceed to extend his advantage to a second over Chastain just past the Lap 55 mark. 

By Lap 60, Hamlin muscled his No. 11 Sport Clips Toyota Camry XSE past Chastain for the runner-up spot as he started to close in on Larson for the lead as he only trailed by less than half a second. Gibbs and Buescher would trail the lead by a second in the top five as Hamlin challenged Larson for the lead on Lap 63. With Larson retaining the top spot while running his No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 on the outside lane, Hamlin tried to overtake Larson again during the following lap, but was denied by Larson as Chastain tried to close back in to join the battle. Eventually, Hamlin would overtake Larson to assume the lead by Lap 68 as Chastain battled and also overtook Larson to assume the runner-up spot. 

When the first stage period concluded on Lap 80, Hamlin, winner of last weekend’s Cup event at Dover Motor Speedway, captured his third Cup stage victory of the 2024 season after fending off a last-lap charge from Chastain, who ended up second. Larson settled in third ahead of Bell and Buescher while Gibbs, Truex, Busch, Gragson and Chase Elliott were scored in the top 10. By then, 33 of 38 starters were scored on the lead lap. 

Under the stage break, the field led by Hamlin returned to pit road for service. Following the pit stops, Bell edged Chastain to emerge as the first competitor off of pit road with the lead from the first pit box as Larson, Gibbs, Buescher, Truex and Busch followed suit as Hamlin, who was blocked by Austin Hill while trying to exit his pit stall, exited eighth ahead of Elliott and Gragson. Amid the pit stops, John Hunter Nemechek was penalized for speeding on pit road. 

The second stage period started on Lap 88 as Bell and Chastain occupied the front row. At the start, both Bell and Chastain mirrored their early performance from the event’s start by battling dead even against one another and in front of the fanned pack through the first two turns and the backstretch. Shortly after, Larson, who rocketed his way up to the two leaders, made a bold three-wide move beneath Bell and Chastain, who got loose through Turns 3 and 4, to assume the lead through the frontstretch’s apron. Bell and Chastain were then pinned in a five-wide battle with Gibbs, Buescher and Truex across the start/finish line as the latter three overtook both Bell and Chastain for positions along with Kyle Busch. Chastain and Bell would continue to battle for sixth place and Buescher would battle Truex for the runner-up spot in front of Gibbs and Busch while Larson retained the lead by the Lap 90 mark.  

Through the Lap 100 mark, Larson was leading by nearly two seconds over Buescher followed by Gibbs, Busch and Truex while Bell, Gragson, Chastain, Hamlin and Bowman were racing in the top 10 ahead of Michael McDowell, Reddick, Wallace, William Byron and Elliott. As Brad Keselowski, Blaney, Cindric, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Carson Hocevar trailed in the top 20, Joey Logano was mired in 21st ahead of Austin Dillon, Justin Haley, Jimmie Johnson and rookie Zane Smith as Suarez was mired in 32nd behind Corey LaJoie, Hill and Chase Briscoe. 

Ten laps later, Larson slightly stretched his advantage to three seconds over Buescher while third-place Gibbs trailed by four seconds. Behind, Busch occupied fourth place ahead of ex-teammates Truex, Bell and Hamlin while Chastain slipped to 10th as he trailed Gragson and Bowman on the track. 

Another six laps later, another cycle of green flag pit stops commenced as Todd Gilliland and Ryan Preece pitted their respective Ford entries. Blaney would then pit along with Kraus, Briscoe, Harrison Burton, Logano, Byron and others before select front-runners like Buescher, Gibbs and Hamlin pitted by Lap 119. Larson would then surrender the lead to pit by Lap 120 as he was followed by Busch, Truex, Bell, Gragson and others while 23XI Racing’s Reddick and Wallace remained on the track.  

On Lap 125, Reddick surrendered the lead to pit his No. 45 Monster Energy Toyota Camry XSE. By then, his teammate Wallace and Daniel Hemric pitted while Buescher, who split Bell and Chastain through the middle as part of the five-wide battle during the start of the second stage period, cycled his No. 17 Castrol Edge Ford Mustang Dark Horse into the lead. Gibbs trailed Buescher in the runner-up spot, followed by Busch and Larson, who endured a slow pit stop after his front-tire changer had issues tightening the left front tire. Meanwhile, Truex trailed in fifth while Hamlin was in sixth. 

At the halfway mark in between Laps 133 and 134, Buescher was leading by more than a second over Busch followed by Gibbs, Larson and Truex while Hamlin, Bowman, Gragson, Bell and Chastain occupied the top-10 spots on the track. Behind, Elliott was in 11th place as he was running ahead of teammate Byron, Keselowski, McDowell and Reddick as Cindric, Blaney, Hocevar, Stenhouse and Wallace trailed in the top 20 as they were running ahead of Logano, Austin Dillon, Gilliland, Zane Smith and Jimmie Johnson. 

By Lap 145, Buescher continued to lead by more than a second over a side-by-side battle between Larson and Busch for the runner-up spot while Gibbs and Hamlin trailed by within four seconds in the top five. Buescher’s advantage slightly decreased to nine-tenths of a second over Larson while third-place Busch trailed by a second by Lap 150.  

Between the Laps 155 and 160 marks, Buescher stabilized his advantage within less than a second over a hard-charging Larson while Busch retained third place ahead of Hamlin and Gibbs. Behind, Chastain and Reddick battled dead even for a top-10 spot while Elliott and Bell battled for 11th place.  

When the second stage period concluded on Lap 165, Buescher captured his first Cup stage victory of the 2024 season. Larson settled in second followed by Hamlin, Busch and Truex while Gibbs, Bowman, Reddick, Chastain and Gragson were scored in the top 10 on the track. By then, 29 of 38 starters were scored on the lead lap. 

During the stage break, the lead lap field led by Buescher pitted for service. Following the pit stops, Larson returned atop the leaderboard after he edged Buescher off of pit road first while Busch, Gibbs, Truex, Chastain, Reddick, Elliott, Gragson and Bell followed suit in the top 10. Amid the pit stops, however, Buescher, who had part of a windshield tear off floating atop his car, was penalized for his pit crew jumping over the pit wall too soon prior to his service and was sent to the rear of the field. 

With 94 laps remaining, the final stage period commenced as Larson and Busch occupied the front row. At the start, Larson fended off Busch and Truex to retain the lead through the first two turns and through the backstretch as the field behind fanned out. With the field fanning out as wide as four lanes during the following lap, Larson was ahead of Busch with the lead while Truex, Gibbs and Reddick were running in the top five. Another lap later, however, the caution returned after Jimmie Johnson was hit by LaJoie in Turn 1 and sent for a spin before he veered back across the track and crashed hard against the outside wall as Hemric and Hill were also collected. The incident left Johnson disappointed with LaJoie as he ended up with his first DNF of the season and strapped in 38th place, dead last.

During the following restart period with 84 laps remaining, Larson and Busch again battled dead even for the lead through the first two turns until Larson muscled ahead from the inside lane. Busch, however, crossed over to the inside lane in his bid to claim the lead, which he led the following lap by a mere margin as Truex closed in. Shortly after, however, the caution returned for a multi-car crash through the backstretch that started when Hamlin, who was running within the top 10, went up the track and was squeezed into the backstretch’s outside wall by teammate Bell into Cindric, where Cindric veered sideways before he spun his No. 2 Snap-On Ford Mustang Dark Horse back down the track and clipped both Wallace and McDowell as all three were sent spinning while the rest of the field scattered to avoid the carnage.  

The next two restart periods, one with 77 laps remaining and another with 71 laps remaining, were quickly halted with two caution periods. The first with 77 laps remaining occurred during the following lap when Harrison Burton, who was running towards the rear of the field, spun his No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Mustang Dark Horse entering the backstretch as he needed a wrecker to tow his car back to pit road after he flattened his rear tires. The second caution period with 71 laps remaining also struck a lap after the restart when Logano spun his No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang Dark Horse entering Turn 4 as he too flattened his rear tires.  

During the initial caution period for Burton’s incident, select names including Hamlin, Buescher and McDowell pitted while the rest led by Busch and Larson remained on the track. During the latest caution period for Logano’s incident, however, a majority of the field led by Larson and Busch pitted while select names led by Gilliland and including Hamlin and Buescher remained on the track. 

As the event restarted with 62 laps remaining, the field quickly fanned out to multiple lanes through the frontstretch as Hamlin used the outside lane to muscle ahead with the lead through the first two turns. Buescher followed suit in the runner-up spot through the backstretch and Wallace challenged Gilliland for third place while Busch was trying to fight his way back to the front as he was up to fifth place in front of McDowell, Bell and the field. 

Down to the final 60 laps of the event, the battle for the lead between Hamlin and Buescher ignited as Buescher used the apron to overtake Hamlin from the frontstretch to the first two turns. As Busch carved his way up to third place, Hamlin would reassume the lead from Buescher with 54 laps remaining. By then, Busch retained third place while Larson carved his way up to fourth place. 

With 50 laps remaining, Hamlin was leading by two-tenths of a second over Buescher, who continued to stalk Hamlin for the lead amid their side-by-side battle earlier, while third-place Hamlin trailed by a second and fourth-place Larson trailed by more than a second. Behind, Gilliland continued to run in fifth place ahead of teammate McDowell, Wallace, Bell, Truex and Elliott while Hocevar, Reddick, Haley, LaJoie, Keselowski, Gragson, Blaney, rookie Josh Berry, Stenhouse and Byron trailed in the top 20. 

Ten laps later, Hamlin continued to lead by two-tenths of a second over a hard-charging Buescher while Busch and Larson continued to trail the lead by more than a second. Buescher then transitioned to the outside lane as he drew even alongside Hamlin for the following lap before Hamlin rocketed back ahead and blocked Buescher through the frontstretch’s apron with 38 laps remaining. Not long after, Larson overtook Busch for third place as Truex overtook Gilliland to move into the top five while Bell carved his way into seventh place ahead of McDowell. 

With less than 30 laps remaining, Hamlin stabilized his advantage to within two- and three-tenths of a second over Buescher while third-place Larson trailed by a second. Behind, Busch retained fourth place ahead of Truex while Bell, Gilliland, Elliott, Keselowski and McDowell were scored in the top 10 ahead of Blaney, Haley, Reddick, Wallace and Hocevar. 

Down to the final 20 laps of the event, Hamlin and Buescher, both of whom were running on fumes with concerns about not having enough fuel to the scheduled distance, continued to run first and second on the track, with Hamlin leading by three-tenths of a second ahead of Buescher. Behind, Larson, who has enough fuel to finish, continued to trail in third place by while Busch and Truex occupied the top five. 

Five laps later, Hamlin slightly stretched his advantage to six-tenths of a second over Buescher while third-place Larson continued to trail by more than a second. Hamlin would then extend his advantage to more than a second over Buescher while Larson, Truex and Busch trailed within three seconds with 10 laps remaining. 

Two laps later, Truex, who was charging strong after overtaking both Larson and Busch, overtook Buescher for the runner-up spot through the frontstretch. Larson would then drop to sixth as Busch and Keselowski overtook him for top-five spots while Truex started to close in on teammate Hamlin for the lead amid lapped traffic. 

Then with seven laps remaining, the caution flew after Kyle Busch, who was running in the top five, got loose and spun his No. 8 Cheddar’s Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 towards the apron from the first two turns and through the backstretch. During the caution period, the lead lap field led by Hamlin pitted for service. Following the pit stops and amid mixed strategies, Hamlin exited pit road first following a two-tire pit stop as he was followed by Buescher, Larson, Elliott, Blaney, Gragson, Bowman, John Hunter Nemechek and Corey Heim, all of whom elected for a two-tire pit service, while Truex exited in 10th place with four fresh tires. 

With the event restarting in overtime, Hamlin and Buescher, both of whom restarted on the front row in front of Larson and Elliott, led the field to the start until Larson, who restarted behind Hamlin, quickly made a move beneath Hamlin in a three-wide bid for the lead. With Elliott joining the battle, Buescher managed to muscle ahead from the outside lane to emerge with the lead ahead of Larson, Hamlin and Elliott through the backstretch. Larson then tried to make a move beneath Buescher entering Turns 3 and 4, but Buescher blocked Larson, which caused the latter to move up the track and regain his momentum as Hamlin was pinned in a three-wide battle with Elliott and Truex for third place. 

When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Buescher remained as the leader by a tenth of a second over Larson while Truex was trying to muscle away from Hamlin and Elliott to occupy third place. Then after stalking Buescher through the first two turns and through the backstretch, Larson gained a draft on Buescher and made his move to the outside lane as Buescher was trying to squeeze Larson’s No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 against the outside wall through Turns 3 and 4. Despite being rubbed and squeezed towards the wall, Larson then started to emerge ahead as both he and Buescher made contact while Truex and Elliott were trying to join the battle. Larson then veered left and rammed into the side of Buescher’s No. 17 Castrol Edge Ford Mustang Dark Horse to stall his momentum, which nearly got Buescher loose, but Buescher kept his foot in the gas, as both he and Larson crossed the finish line dead even ahead of Truex and Elliott.  

When the dust settled, Larson, who was initially told that Buescher had won, emerged as the race winner by 0.001 seconds over Buescher, which set a new closest-recorded finish in the history of NASCAR’s premier series. Larson’s margin of victory over Buescher broke the previous record of 0.002 seconds that was made twice: once by Ricky Craven at Darlington Raceway in 2003 and the second made by Jimmie Johnson at Talladega Superspeedway in 2011. 

With the victory, Larson notched his 25th career win in NASCAR’s premier series, which placed him in a tie with Jim Paschal and Joe Weatherly on the all-time wins list. He also recorded his second victory at Kansas Speedway, his second of the 2024 Cup Series season after winning his first of the year at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March, and his 19th driving the No. 5 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. In addition, the victory was the sixth of the season for Hendrick Motorsports and the seventh for the Chevrolet nameplate as Larson became the third competitor to repeat as a race winner alongside teammate William Byron and Denny Hamlin through the first 12 events on the 2024 schedule.

“That was wild,” Larson said on FS1. “I was obviously thankful for that last caution [with seven laps remaining]. We were dying pretty bad. [I] Was happy to come out third and figured my best shot was me choosing the bottom [lane] and just try and split three wide to the inside. [It] Worked out. My car turned well and was able to get some runs. Got through [Turns] 1 and 2 really good down the backstretch and had a big tow on Chris [Buescher]. I just committed really hard up top and wasn’t quite sure if we were gonna make it to the other side. I got super loose in the center and then, I’m trying not to get too far ahead of him to where he can side-draft. Then I was trying to kill his run, so it was just crazy. That race from start to finish was amazing. You [fans] got your money’s worth today. I’m just proud to be a part of the show.” 

“I didn’t know if I won or not,” Larson added. “I was pumped for the finish. I got to about Turn 3 and [spotter] Tyler [Monn] was going crazy up on the [spotter’s] roof, so just incredible finish there. I wish we have more mile-and-a-halfs [tracks]. These mile-and-a-halfs, these cars just race so amazing. This is so cool. Month of May is gonna be great for us, so hopefully, this just starts some momentum.” 

As Larson was left beaming and celebrating on the frontstretch, Buescher was left dejected on pit road after coming up a nose shy of etching the first victory of the season for himself, Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing and the new Ford Mustang Dark Horse stock car. 

“I don’t know what to say right now,” Buescher said. “That sucks to be that close. It was a great finish for us. A really strong day, a lot of speed in this Castrol Edge Ford Mustang. We really needed that. Needed a win more. [I] Thought I might have had that one. [I] Tried to cover what I could and gave [Larson] half a lane too much, I suppose, but good hard race there right there down to the line, but that hurts.” 

Meanwhile, Chase Elliott edged Martin Truex Jr. to finish third while Denny Hamlin, who led a race-high 71 laps, ended up in fifth place. 

Christopher Bell, Alex Bowman, Kyle Busch, Noah Gragson and Michael McDowell finished in the top 10. 

There were 27 lead changes for 10 different leaders. The race featured seven cautions for 43 laps. In addition, 31 of 38 starters finished on the lead lap. 

Following the 12th event of the 2024 Cup Series season, Kyle Larson leads the regular-season standings by 29 points over Martin Truex Jr., 55 over Chase Elliott, 56 over Denny Hamlin and 93 over Tyler Reddick. 

Results. 

1.  Kyle Larson, 63 laps led

2. Chris Buescher, 54 laps led, Stage 2 winner

3. Chase Elliott

4. Martin Truex Jr.

5. Denny Hamlin, 71 laps led, Stage 1 winner

6. Christopher Bell, five laps led

7. Alex Bowman

8. Kyle Busch, 14 laps led

9. Noah Gragson

10. Michael McDowell

11. Brad Keselowski, one lap led

12. Ryan Blaney

13. John Hunter Nemechek

14. Todd Gilliland, four laps led

15. Josh Berry

16. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

17. Bubba Wallace

18. Justin Haley

19. Ross Chastain, 43 laps led

20. Tyler Reddick, seven laps led

21. Chase Briscoe

22. Corey Heim

23. William Byron

24. Carson Hocevar

25. Austin Dillon

26. Corey LaJoie

27. Daniel Suarez

28. Ryan Preece

29. Zane Smith

30. Daniel Hemric

31. Derek Kraus, six laps led

32. Ty Gibbs, one lap down

33. Austin Hill, one lap down

34. Joey Logano, two laps down

35. Riley Herbst, two laps down

36. Harrison Burton, six laps down

37. Austin Cindric – OUT, Accident 

38. Jimmie Johnson – OUT, Accident 

Next on the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series schedule is the Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina. The event is scheduled to occur next Sunday, May 12, and air at 3 p.m. ET on FS1. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com

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