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May 7, 2024

Analysis: So far, 2024 shaping up to be an all-time NASCAR season

A pack of NASCAR race cars on track at Kansas Speedway, with Kyle Busch in front.
Alejandro Alvarez
NASCAR Digital Media

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Dominators. Multiple photo finishes. Story lines. The 2024 NASCAR season has had it all — and just through the opening 12 weeks of action.

The year is still young, with Sunday’s AdventHealth 400 at Kansas Speedway marking the one-third mark of the 36-race campaign that will lead through the championship race in November at Phoenix Raceway. Already, though, the on-track action has proven to be some of the best ever seen throughout the course of one season.

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Sunday’s photo-finish nail-biter between Kyle Larson and Chris Buescher produced the closest margin of victory in Cup Series history at 0.001 seconds — besting the previous 0.002-second record set in 2003 between Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch at Darlington Raceway, then tied in 2011 with a three-wide finish at Talladega Superspeedway with Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer.

Finishes like that are typically regarded as a once-a-season occurrence — if you’re lucky — which is why that record stood for some 21 years. But we were treated to a stunner back in February at Atlanta Motor Speedway, when Daniel Suárez edged Ryan Blaney by 0.003 seconds in a three-wide finish, with Kyle Busch caught between for third place just 0.007 seconds behind the No. 99. (And, oh by the way, the Xfinity Series had a doozy of its own at Texas Motor Speedway, where Sam Mayer nabbed the win from Ryan Sieg by 0.002 seconds.)

Parity can be a beautiful thing in sports — nearly evidenced once again Sunday at Kansas by Buescher, who is now painfully dubbed the driver who came closest to winning a Cup race without actually winning it. But the counter to parity is dominance, an assertion that a driver or group of drivers will be the ones to beat on a weekly basis.

Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing have ruled the year so far, winning 10 of the 12 events, but the story lines only grow stronger. Larson and Hamlin have traded barbs in consecutive weeks, with Hamlin fending him off for the victory at Dover and Larson striking back a week later with an overtime win at Kansas. Byron is looking to bring the No. 24 Chevrolet back to championship prominence for the first time since 2001, when Jeff Gordon was lighting up the Cup Series with his fourth title in seven seasons.

MORE: Byron forges own path with No. 24 after Daytona 500 win

William Byron does a burnout at Martinsville.
James Gilbert | Getty Images

Winners build legacies. And legacies can grow superstars. And as defending Cup Series champion Ryan Blaney recently told the Kansas City Star: “It starts with success on the race track.”

Kyle Busch, winner of 231 Cup, Xfinity and Craftsman Truck Series races combined, is in search of his third Cup championship. So, too, is Joey Logano, the 2018 and 2022 title winner. But first, both are looking to end winless streaks, with Logano winless since March 2023 (Atlanta) and Busch since last June (World Wide Technology Raceway). Brad Keselowski, the 2012 Cup champ and third-year co-owner of RFK Racing, is seeking his first win since taking over the No. 6 Ford and has come mighty close this season with two runner-up finishes, though neither as close as teammate Buescher’s.

The story lines are seemingly endless, with still so much ahead.

Larson’s month of May is only beginning as he pursues the rare double — competing in both the Indianapolis 500 and Charlotte’s Coca-Cola 600 in the same day on Sunday, May 26. With a Kansas win ahead of Darlington (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) and the All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro, Larson could be set to accomplish some unprecedented things over the next few weeks.

Still ahead are return trips to the Chicago Street Course, the Cup Series’ inaugural visit to Iowa Speedway and a stock-car return to the Indianapolis oval for the Brickyard 400.

So often, we may be blinded by what might be wrong or in need of improvement on a lap-by-lap basis. The pursuit of perfection will never end, whether in racing or life — nor should we ever stop moving forward to make the product as extraordinary as possible.

But Sunday felt just about perfect. It’s important to enjoy the beauties, thrills and pure joys of stock-car racing when these exceptionally historic — and exceptionally rare — positives are right in front of us.

Folks, these might just be the good ole days.