Another 1.5 mile track another spectacular race as Larson makes history at Kansas


There was a time when races at a mile and a half track in NASCAR’s Cup series meant long drawn-out runs featuring little in the way of passing, or excitement.

Kansas Speedway begs to differ with that assessment.

The season’s fourth 1.5-mile race delivered yet another barn burner Sunday night that saw Kyle Larson emerge with the win thanks to the closest finish in NASCAR history.

But the ending wasn’t the only highlight of the race, delayed just over the hours due to rain.

There were no natural cautions during the first 175 laps, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t anything to see. Many of those laps saw the two cars in the front fighting side by side. These included pole sitter Christopher Bell, Ross Chastain, Denny Hamlin who won Stage 1, and Chris Buescher who won Stage 2. All those drivers dealt with the same foe, Kyle Larson.

Five of the race’s seven cautions came in the final stage.

Restarts that featured 3 and 4 wide racing and included a five wide battle for the lead at one point, can be recipes for trouble, and Sunday night was no different. Jimmie Johnson, and Austin Cindric were testaments to that as both were knocked out as a result of three wide battles back in the field gone awry.

With 50 to go it was Hamlin and Buescher swapping the top spot thanks to staying out during a caution on lap 205 for a spin by Joey Logano while others including Kyle Busch, and Larson pitted.

Fuel saving became the strategy in the final laps as both Hamlin and Buescher were being coached to save enough to make it to the end. Meanwhile, Larson was told he was three laps to the good.

The final ten laps saw Buescher giving up the fight in order to make it to the end on fuel, Larson running tight and stalled out behind, while Hamlin nervously holding onto the lead.

Truex, with more than enough fuel made a late race charge getting by Larson with 8 to go and made it to second.

The fuel worries ended for all as Busch running fifth went for a solo spin with 7 to go setting up the race’s seventh caution and putting the pressure on the pit crews as the leaders pitted. It also set up an overtime finish.

Hamlin led the group off pit road followed by Buescher and Larson. Truex who came in second was the only one among the leaders who took four tires and came out 11th.

On the final restart Buescher quickly grabbed the lead and held it on the final lap. Larson close behind charged to the outside coming into Turn 3 as Buescher came up and the two emerged side by side coming to the checkered flag. Behind them Chase Elliott, and Martin Truex Jr. were side by side charging up on the outside making it four wide.

Crossing the line, it was Larson edging Buescher by a gap of .001 of a second, the closest in NASCAR history.

“That was wild,” Larson said. “I was obviously thankful for that caution. We were dying pretty bad. Was happy to come out third, and figured my best shot was me choose bottom and try and split three wide to the inside.”

For Buescher who led the third most laps on the day, had only his first Stage win of 2024 to highlight.

“That sucks to be that close,” he said. “It was a great finish for us, a really strong day.”

Elliott was scored third, Truex fourth. Truex was .074 behind the leader meaning that the four top finishers combined were within the former Kansas record for the closest finish.

Hamlin survived to finish fifth. Bell, Alex Bowman, followed. Busch recovered for eighth while Noah Gragson and Micheal McDowell rounded out the top 10.

The finish was such that it took several minutes before NASCAR could confirm Larson as the winner.

“I didn’t know if we won or not,” Larson said. “I was pumped for the finish. I can’t remember if it was Cliff or Tyler, my spotter, said that the 17 got it, and I was like, hey, good job today, team, because that was a great race. Then I got to about Turn 3 and Tyler was going crazy up on the roof. Just incredible, incredible finish there.”

The series now heads to Darlington for the annual throwback weekend. William Byron is the defending winner.

The next 1.5-mile race will be at Charlotte Motor Speedway, just over three weeks away. And given the way the races at all the 1.5-mile tracks have been this season so far, it will have a great deal to live up to. Kansas winner Larson seemed to agree.

“I wish we had more mile-and-a-halfs,” he said. “We all bitch about the package and all that, but these mile-and-a-halfs, these cars just race so amazing.”


Photos: NASCAR at Kansas Speedway Sunday May 5, 2024

Greg Engle