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Economy Runs to the Finish Are Becoming a Lost Art

2024 Wwt Gateway Cup Austin Cindric Ahead Of Ryan Blaney Pack Racing Logan Riely Getty Images

Sunday’s (June 2) NASCAR Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway provided one of the most unusual finishes in recent memory.

First, the dominant car of Christopher Bell started blowing a motor while battling Ryan Blaney for the win. And just when it looked like Blaney had the win in hand, he sputtered coming to take the white flag, allowing Team Penske teammate Austin Cindric to score the second win of his Cup career.

What made the finish all the more shocking is that no one, not even Blaney himself, knew he was short on fuel. There was no suspense building up to a potential fuel-mileage finish, and that made his late sputter to checkered flag all the more shocking.

When you pair that with Bell losing power — a failure that almost never happens nowadays, especially with the Next Gen car — in the closing laps in the exact same race, we got a finish that wasn’t quite one-in-a-million odds, but pretty dang close to it.

The last time we saw the leader drop out of a Cup race due to a late mechanical failure in the closing laps (which I will define as the final 10% of the race) was back in the 2022 Southern 500, which featured not one, but two leaders falling to the wayside.

Martin Truex Jr. had a commanding lead with three dozen laps remaining, but his No. 19 car suffered a mechanical failure with 32 laps to go, and he coasted to the garage just a few laps later. The lead then went to his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch, but he too wound up in the garage as smoke began pouring out of the exhaust pipes during a caution with 22 laps to go.

What might sound surprising is that there was an even longer wait to the last fuel-mileage finish. To find the last time the leader ran out of gas within five miles of the checkered flag, you’d have to go back three seasons, to the second race at Pocono Raceway in 2021. William Byron had control of the race in the closing laps, but he ran out with three laps to go. That handed the lead to Denny Hamlin, who ran out himself with two laps to go. That gave the lead to Busch, who saved just enough to win despite running the final 40 laps of the race stuck in fourth gear.

Sunday’s finish at Gateway wasn’t just the first mileage finish since that Pocono race in 2021; it was only the second Cup race period since 2019 where the leader ran out of gas with less than a handful of laps remaining.

Just two races in the last five-and-a-half seasons. Meanwhile, the nine-year stretch…

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