Late-race cautions may be exciting for fans, but they often cost drivers when it matters most.
Such was the story for Kurt Busch in Sunday’s MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. Busch, who entered the Chase with two victories after missing races early in the season, was leading by over three seconds with 10 laps remaining in Sunday’s race when a debris caution fell on the field.
Busch stayed out under the yellow, hoping multiple drivers would stay out with him. In typical NASCAR fashion, that wasn’t the case.
Busch would lose the lead to race-winner Denny Hamlin on the final restart before finishing in third. The Nevada native was left wondering “what-if” thinking about the race’s final caution.
“It was the difference-maker today,” said Busch. “But overall, I’m really proud of this team and everybody at Haas Automation and Stewart-Haas Racing. This Chevy was fast. It was fast enough to win. When the caution came out there at the end, I thought we had the right strategy, but we didn’t.
“But this is a points day. This is a long journey through these next 10 weeks. We weren’t given a hall pass now, through Loudon and through Dover. We’ve just got to work hard as a team and saddle-up.”
While Busch found the silver lining, he couldn’t help but reflect on a similar incident that occurred to him early in the season.
“This isn’t just a win and take a couple weeks off, but we had a winning car today. It’s kind of a shame. We had a good run at Fontana earlier this year and it kin of ended up the same way.”
Busch might have been disappointed, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. was left frustrated. Earnhardt, who made the Chase following wins at Talladega Superspeedway and Daytona International Raceway, struggled with handling but ran inside of the top 10 for most of the race. However, the late race caution and ensuing restart ultimately cycled Earnhardt back to 12th.
“I don’t like debris cautions, especially those kind,” said Earnhardt following Sunday’s race.
“When you have a late yellow, it takes all the damn work you did all day out of it. A little frustrated, but we were only running ninth or 10th. We’ll move on to the next one.”
The caution flag fell three times for debris throughout the 400-mile event, including the final two cautions on the day.