Hard Respectful Racing Between Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson at Kansas

The two champions were throwing sliders and tagging the wall in the Heartland.


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"He fenced us there."
"No he didn't."

-Cliff Daniels and Kyle Larson after Kurt Busch made the winning pass on Sunday at Kansas

It was refreshing after a week of headlines about who owes whom in the aftermath of Joey Logano versus William Byron at Darlington that Larson felt no animus whatsoever over how he ended up brushing the wall while racing Busch for the win.

Racing through lapped traffic, with a little bit of body damage from a previous run-in with the wall, the Hendrick Motorsports No. 5 started pushing tight despite its track position. It took getting back to the throttle sooner and sooner for Larson to hold off the rapidly approaching 2004 Cup Series champion and it was going to cost him eventually.

It happened with eight laps to go, side-by-side, and racing around Chris Buescher and JJ Yeley.

Busch held Larson tight against the wall but left a lane if the defending champion was able to thread the needle, but he couldn’t. Larson brushed the wall but immediately recognized no ill-intent from Busch, maintaining that narrative immediately after the race.

"It was just tight racing," Larson said. "It's what, seven laps to go at that point, and he never touched me. It was close. He left me just enough room and I was trying to squeeze the throttle to get the position on him and at least stay side-by-side with him to give myself an opportunity in 3 and 4, but I got the wall."

The two previously engaged in a battle for the lead with 86 to go and Larson arguably threw the gutsier slider into Turns 1 and 2. It was the contact with the wall that actually saved Larson from going around.

"Yeah, I had a run and drove in hard," Larson said. "He had a run trying to come back to me and I wasn't expecting it to turn sideways on me like that, but it did. Thankfully, the wall kept me from turning around."

Meanwhile, Busch knew who he was racing.

"I had my dirt mentality," Busch said. "I was digging. I was jiving. I'm like, all right, I see this coming.

"You got to know who you are racing. You have to know what moves they're going to pull. The momentum that he had, I was, like, this is going to be easy. I'm going to cross underneath him, and then when I yanked the wheel to cross underneath him, I got all the air on my nose and got just as loose."

So, Busch filed that away for when the roles were reversed and made the point not to throw the same move, because it very well could have wrecked both of them. It was a case of situational awareness.

"The move he made on me earlier when he lost all his momentum on his slide job, that taught me that if I'm going to make a move before the final lap, it needs to be done more from an asphalt frame of mind as far as the way I drive and who I am, and I knew I needed to be aggressive," Busch said. ...

"Then I was like, with Larson, he is a dirt guy. He is going to toss it on in there, but I'm not going to go to that level of sliding it in there and cooking the tires. I'm going to keep it under control, and I'm going to get him with the amount of laps we had left."

All told, Larson was just surprised that he could repeatedly hit the wall like he did on Sunday and still bring it back to a second-place finish.

"Thanks to my team for building me a war machine," Larson said. "I hit the wall a lot today and just struggled, like people could put air on me and get me really tight and I hit the wall. We’ll work on that and figure it out, but happy with my car.

"It was hard to hold off Kyle (Busch) and then I knew when Kurt got by, I knew it was going to be really hard to hold him off. I did my best but came up one spot short."