Kirill Kotsegarov, right, crosses the finish line 2 seconds ahead of Matt Chrabot to win Ironman Chattanooga on Sunday. Stefan Schmidt finished third, just 8 seconds behind Chrabot.
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Fierce competition with multiple lead changes over hundreds of miles culminating in a frantic winner-take-all sprint in front of throngs of screaming fans on a Sunday afternoon.

The latest race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series?

Nope. It's Ironman Chattanooga 2015 at Ross's Landing.

Three professional triathletes raced together over the final four miles of the second edition of the 144.6-mile race in the Scenic City, with Kirill Kotsegarov, Matt Chrabot and Stefan Schmid coming down the finishing stretch together at full speed after more than eight hours of swimming, cycling and running.

Chrabot, a 2012 U.S. Olympic team alternate, had held the lead for much of the run portion and was leading in the final strides. His first Ironman win was so close to becoming a reality.

But in the final steps before the tape, the lanky Kotsegarov jumped ahead with two long strides and won Sunday's race with a time of 8 hours, 8 minutes and 32 seconds. Chrabot finished in 8:08:34, Schmid in 8:08:40. Ironman officials said it was perhaps the closest finish in Ironman history.

Kotsegarov screamed in excitement as Chrabot and Schmid tumbled across the line and lay on the carpet of the finishing area in agony as fans cheered all three for their efforts.

"Winning the Ironman, especially like that, is amazing," Kotsegarov said. "My last (Ironman) triathlon victory was in 2009, so it was really important for me."

Fourth-place finisher Eric Limkemann started the 26.2-mile run segment of the race — it followed the 2.4-mile swim in the Tennessee River and a 116-mile bike ride — in first place, but Chrabot caught him and led for much of the run.

"I had a great swim and a solid bike," he said. "These guys caught me with a few miles to go in the bike, but a couple of miles into the run I started to pull away.

"I was going through a couple of rough patches around miles 20 and 21 where I was kind of walking some. But once these guys caught me, I got my second wind and felt good again."

With Chrabot back in form, he, Kotsegarov and Schmid went stride for stride for the final four miles of the race as those in the finish line area received updates from the public address announcer.

On the course, the three-way battle was tense.

"Everybody was suffering so bad, so it was very quiet," said Kotsegarov, who was in fourth place after the bike rid. "There's not much you can talk to each other about, so we were just running to see who cracked first.

"In the run I was trying to stay as steady as possible and not go out too fast. I had done some nice training blocks in high altitude, so it worked for me. I was battling with my head, so I was trying to turn off my head, because I know that my legs could run."

It made for great racing to watch, but not much fun for those involved.

"I hope that all the spectators enjoyed the show, because I didn't," Schmid said. "When you're doing an Ironman for more than eight hours, the one thing you don't want is to get to the finish line with two other guys fighting for the victory.

"We were all suffering so badly, and I had to settle for third."

The fast times were likely the result of great conditions. After two days of rain, there was no precipitation Sunday and partly cloudy skies kept temperatures at a reasonable level.

"Conditions were perfect," Schmid said. "If it had been three or four days ago, it may been too hot, and the race would have been slower. And the past two days it was very rainy and a little colder, so today I think it was perfect."

For all the fireworks of the men's pro race, the women's main event turned into a relative cake walk for winner Carrie Lester.

The Australian built a major lead on the run and won with a time of 8:56:00. She was more than 12 minutes ahead of second-place finisher Lisa Roberts of Tuscon, Ariz., who came in at 9:08:46. Kim Schwabenbauer was third at 9:14:11.

"I had no expectation of that kind of performance," Lester said. "I didn't even think I would make it out of the swim this morning — I was feeling really ill. I just went with how I was feeling, and the cards just fell my way.

"I saw where some girls were on the first lap of the run and thought 'Gee, I didn't realize I had that much of a gap.'"

The runner-up's finish was impressive, too. Roberts was the 30th-best woman after the swim and ninth after the bike ride, but she kept picking up spaces over the final miles of the run.

"I was a little off on the bike ride and had a crash that hurt a little bit," she said. "I knew that I was about 16 minutes behind (Lester) after the bike, and that's a big task. But I knew I had to just go out there and do what I can do.

"You've got no choice but to just go out there and do what you can."

Going for it was the order of the day at Ironman Chattanooga 2015, and even in defeat, Chrabot was happy to be a part of a race that will be the talk of the worldwide Ironman community for a long time.

"All these guys are saying this is one of the greatest finishes in Ironman history," he said. "I'm really happy to be part of it. The fact that three guys were within a couple of seconds is truly amazing, and I'm real honored to be a part of that.

"We have a German, an Estonian and an American all sprinting together for the line. That was just incredible."

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