DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Kurt Busch’s chances for victory on a topsy-turvy Sunday at Daytona International Speedway disappeared in a flash of lightning and a split-second decision that ended his hopes.
“I was just on the wrong side of a lightning bolt there,” Busch said after taking 10th place. “Judgment call.”
Busch and his Chip Ganassi Racing No. 1 Chevrolet team opted against pitting immediately after the Coke Zero Sugar 400’s biggest crash, grabbing the lead in hopes of snatching away a rain-shortened victory with stormy weather brewing. Once it appeared the race would resume after officials gave the one-to-go signal with 33 laps remaining, Busch hit pit road for service with second-place Landon Cassill following suit.
Within seconds of that decision, race control waived off the call for a restart when a lightning strike was reported within an 8-mile radius of the track. That forced a red flag that left Justin Haley as the leader and eventual winner after the erratic weather conditions worsened.
“Well, we couldn’t make it, you know what I mean?,” said crew chief Matt McCall, noting the No. 1 team’s status on fuel. “You wouldn’t think you would throw one to go if you weren’t going back green. We came here to race for the win and not racing for rain. It’s easy in hindsight to stay out, right?”
Busch had already had an eventful Stage 2 before the race had reached that point. He made contact with Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s No. 17 Ford on Lap 59, then sustained minor damage 16 laps later with a wall scrape and contact with Brendan Gaughan’s No. 62.
Busch received the free pass to return to the lead lap at the Stage 2 break, then sidestepped the 18-car incident that set the stage for the team’s fateful decision.
“Yeah, I think we did pretty good to finish 10th considering everything that went on,” Busch conceded.
By then, the weather that hampered the race’s originally scheduled Saturday night start had kept teams on high alert for the shifting radar and storm warnings Sunday afternoon. It figured into the scheduling and ultimately the strategy.
“The lightning thing is hard to judge,” McCall said. “I think that’s probably what the biggest thing was there. The only thing you can do in the situation we were in was to wait as long as you could. In hindsight, it’s pretty easy.”