Kurt Busch enjoyed a strong start to the Chase for the Sprint Cup with a third-place finish in Sunday's myAFibRisk.com at Chicagoland Speedway.
The 2004 Sprint Cup Series champion couldn't help but wonder what could have been, however.
Leading comfortably with less than 10 laps to go, Busch saw his advantage be erased in an instant when NASCAR threw the caution flag for debris in turns 1 and 2.
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One of three lead-lap cars that elected to stay on track and not pit under yellow, Busch restarted in the lead alongside Jeff Gordon with five laps remaining but couldn't hold off race winner Denny Hamlin -- who like Busch elected to stay out -- or the car of second-place finisher Carl Edwards, who had fresher tires.
After the race, Busch questioned both crew chief Tony Gibson's call to leave him on the track, and the legitimacy of the late caution for debris.
"We win as a team and we lose as a team and history said, Gibson said to me after the race, that staying out was going to prevail," said Busch. "The problem is these restart zones are so tight that everybody rips and gouges and tears, and you get a little bit of extra grip with ... maybe one (fresh) right-rear tire, versus both rears. You're going to get that lunge forward, and Jeff Gordon and I were kind of sitting ducks. He wanted to mess with me and I'm like, 'Don't mess with me on the restart. We've got all these guys with fresh tires,' and they swallowed him up.
"Did the yellow even need to come out? I don't even know. We had a really good Haas Automation Chevy."
Despite the disappointment of not going to Victory Lane and thereby automatically punching a ticket to the next round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Busch was happy to have so much speed in his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet.
He's also pleased to be heading to next weekend's race in New Hampshire in a good position. Busch is tied for fifth among the 16 Chase drivers, just four points out of the lead.
"This Chevy was fast, fast enough to win," said Busch, who led three times for a total of 37 laps. "The caution came out there at the end, and 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 (nine) weeks, and we weren't given a hall pass now through Loudon and through Dover.
"We've just got to go work hard as a team, and saddle up. This just isn't a win where we can take a couple weeks off, but we had a winning car today. It's kind of a shame."