By David Morgan, Associate Editor
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – To pit or not to pit? That is the question that crew chiefs always face when weather is a factor late in the going. Make the wrong decision and it could cost your driver a chance at a win.
Unfortunately for Kurt Busch and Chip Ganassi Racing crew chief Matt McCall, the odds weren’t in their favor in Sunday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona, as an untimely lightning strike would be their undoing.
Busch was able to escape the “Big One” on lap 118 relatively unscathed, with the only wounds on his Chevrolet being those suffered earlier in the day when he went for a spin in Turn 3. Making it through the multi-car crash with the lead, Busch looked to be in the catbird seat.
Though weather threatened, NASCAR gave the teams the one to go signal and Busch was radioed by his team to come down pit road for service, with the expectation that they would be going back green with 33 laps remaining in the 160-lap event.
Just as Busch came down pit road to give up the lead to Justin Haley, lightning struck within the eight-mile perimeter, bringing the race to a halt as the sanctioning body and the teams still in the running had to wait out the 30-minute lightning delay clock.
Ultimately, one lightning delay stretched to multiple lightning delays as rain took hold over the 2.5-mile superspeedway and the race was eventually called following a two-hour, 12 minute long red flag, leaving Busch 10th in the final running order.
“I feel like we were in a really good position to win the race and it’s just a matter of when the one random lightning bolt comes down to decide when you make the call. It was a judgment call on their part,” Busch said.
“I think we did pretty good to finish tenth considering everything that went on.”
Considering how the day played out, what more could have been done to change the outcome? With weather being the major factor, Busch jokingly noted that NASCAR could have taken the typical threat of afternoon thunderstorms in Florida out of the equation.
“Oh, we could have started the race at 11 am (laughter) and got a full race in,” he said.