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NASCAR Cup Series: Larson wins in closest finish in Cup history at Kansas

Written by Sean McKean

Credit - Logan Riely / Getty Images

In an absolutely thrilling finish, Kyle Larson crossed the line ahead of second by 0.001 seconds to take his second win of the season. Not only is this Larson's second win at Kansas, but he also comes out on top of the NASCAR Cup Series' closest finish in history. The previous record happened in the 2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400, where Ricky Craven came out ahead of Kurt Busch by 0.002 seconds.

As it unfolded

To give an update on Erik Jones: he was cleared on Thursday to race, but Legacy Motor Club sat him out for one more week to get him ready for Darlington. Corey Heim – having won Saturday’s Truck Series race dominantly – remained the substitute.

The start of the race was fairly clean. Although polesitter Christopher Bell got away well to lead the first few laps, Trackhouse’s Ross Chastain eventually cycled to the front. Not too long after that, Kyle Larson got by Bell to solidify himself in second.

Everything was quiet until the first pit cycles. The running order did not change, but the battle up front heated up. Lap by lap, Chastain and Larson continuously swapped the lead, with Larson eventually coming out on top on lap 53.

However, through their aggressive battling, both used up their tyres, which resulted in Dover winner Denny Hamlin catching up to the two of them and taking the lead with ease. Though Chastain provided a challenge towards the end of the stage, Hamlin was uncontested with the tyre advantage. Hamlin won the stage followed by Chastain and Larson.

To begin stage two, Bell and Chastain led the way up front, as Larson and Hamlin each had poor pit stops. The two battled hard, but coming off turn four, they both washed up, resulting in a five-wide moment that saw Larson go back to the lead and Chris Buescher go into second.

Cars coming down pit road after stage one | Credit - Logan Riely / Getty Images

Things settled down from there until the pit cycles began yet again on lap 117. It was a usual cycle until Kyle Larson’s left-front tyre wouldn’t come off. Subsequently, Chris Buescher inherited the lead with Kyle Busch and Ty Gibbs settling in behind. Chris Buescher hung on to take his first stage win of the season. Larson eventually rallied back by Busch and Gibbs to take second, likewise Hamlin in third. 

Unfortunately for Buescher, he was penalized during the stage-break pit stops. He was sent to the tail end of the field for too many people over the wall.

Despite how clean the opening two stages were, the final stage began to see some incident-related cautions. The first came two laps after the restart on lap 176, where Jimmie Johnson got tagged from behind and sent hard into the outside wall. This incident also collected Corey Lajoie and Austin Hill; though – unlike Johnson – they continued unscathed.

The next restart wasn’t any cleaner. Kyle Busch led the way for only one lap until a multi-car incident on the backstretch occurred. Coming off turn two, Hamlin got squeezed by his teammate Christopher Bell, which also sent Austin Cindric into the wall. Cindric spun and tagged Bubba Wallace and Michael McDowell. Cindric received terminal damage from this incident.

Yet another caution came out only one lap after the ensuing restart on lap 191. This time, the incident was much more minor, with Harrison Burton getting tagged into a spin. Although he had to get towed back to the garage with four flat tyres, Burton was able to continue.

Under the caution period, Denny Hamlin and Chris Buescher notably pitted to top off with fuel and take fresh tyres. Presumably, this was because they sensed that this wouldn’t be the last caution of the race, so that if another one did come out, they would cycle to the front.

They made it even less than a lap the next restart, as Joey Logano was sent into a spin after getting squeezed off turn four on lap 197. Like Burton, Logano continued undamaged.

As a result of their gamble under the previous caution period, Denny Hamlin and Chris Buescher led the way on the ensuing restart on lap 203. They continued to battle, but Hamlin eventually cycled to the front as leader.

However, with their pit gamble, they had to start saving fuel. For the next 45 laps, Hamlin and Buescher’s crew chiefs told them to lay off the throttle slightly. Obviously, this resulted in the two losing a lot of pace. Through all of this, Hamlin’s teammate Martin Truex – who didn’t have to worry about fuel – began pushing to catch the #11 car.

But before the 2017 champion could catch Hamlin, the caution came out with only seven laps to go. Coming off turn two, Kyle Busch had a rear tyre go down, sending him into a spin. This meant that fuel was no longer a worry for anyone and it would be a push to the end in overtime.

The final restart saw Buescher get an excellent jump from the outside while Hamlin got swallowed up by Larson behind. Coming off turn four on the final lap, Larson found his way on the outside and was side by side with him coming to the line. Coming to the line, Larson hit Buescher’s door, and that was the decider for Larson coming out on top in this finish.

For Larson, it’s his 25th career win. Not only that, but this win was the closest Cup Series finish in history – 0.001 seconds. 

Credit - Logan Riely / Getty Images

Buescher ties his best finish to the season in second followed by Chase Elliott in third and Martin Truex in fourth. Denny Hamlin, despite leading for a majority of the race, rounded out fifth.

Christopher Bell quietly finished sixth from pole as did Alex Bowman in a quiet seventh. Kyle Busch finished in eighth despite being the spin that brought out the last caution. Rounding out the top ten was Noah Gragson – his third in a row – and Michael McDowell. Despite being scored as 22nd at the line, Corey Heim was firmly in the top 10 on the last lap.

After that thriller, catch the next bit of NASCAR action next Sunday as they take on NASCAR’s toughest track, Darlington Raceway.


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