Monday July 15th, 2024 1:10PM

Larson wins closest race in NASCAR Cup Series history; Elliott takes 3rd

By Dave Skretta AP Sports Writer

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Kyle Larson came around Chris Buescher on the final lap and banged doors with him all the way to the finish line Sunday, where he was declared the winner of the Cup Series race by officials at Kansas Speedway in the closest finish in NASCAR history.

The official margin was a thousandth of a second — every bit as close as the Kentucky Derby a day earlier — and Buescher was left both dumbfounded and dejected. His team had begun to celebrate before learning he had finished second.

Dawsonville's Chase Elliott took third as he was closing in on the lead in the final lap.

The dramatic finale came after a caution for Kyle Busch's spin forced a green-white-checkered finish. Larson pulled behind Buescher on the backstretch of the last lap, then came around him on the outside of the final corner. Buescher looked as if he had pulled in front, and even Larson thought he had finished second, before the call came through that he had won.

“That was wild,” Larson said. “I was thankful for that caution. We were dying pretty bad. I was happy to come out third.”

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 the second of the season for him in the No. 5 car for Hendrick Motorsports, and a bit of retribution finishing second to Denny Hamlin last week at Dover and in the spring race at Kansas a year ago.

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

Meanwhile, Buescher was left questioning the grainy black-and-white images of the photo finish, and the entire Ford contingent — which has yet to win in any of NASCAR's top three series this year — had to rue the closest miss in its history.

“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.”

Making it a 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 onto pit road when a crew member came over the wall too soon. The penalty sent him to the rear of the field, and he had to spend much of the final stage working his way back to the front.

Ultimately, he opted for a different pit strategy along with Hamlin, who had his own share of problems on pit road. And it might have worked out for them had the race finished under green. Instead, the late caution forced all the leaders to pit.

“I don’t know what to say right now,” Buescher said.

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 delay because of rain, finishing sixth. He was followed by Alex Bowman and Kyle Busch, whose spin brought out the last caution. Noah Gragson and Michael McDowell gave Ford two more 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 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.

HEIM TIME

Corey Heim, who won the Truck Series race on Saturday night, finished 22nd while subbing for Erik Jones in the No. 43 car for Legacy Motor Club. Jones has been cleared to return after a wreck at Talladega resulted in a compression fracture in his back, but the team opted to hold him out for one more week to be on the safe side.

ODDS AND ENDS

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished 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 on 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.

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