The decision from NASCAR race control to delay calling a caution for an errant tire in the infield near the end of the Buschy McBusch Race 400 at Kansas Speedway came down to balancing safety and permitting the race to play out naturally.
That was the explanation from Elton Sawyer, vice president of officiating and technical inspection, who fielded questions on the topic during a Monday morning SiriusXM NASCAR Radio segment.
The tire in question rolled away from the Richard Childress Racing No. 8 team during a pit stop with 55 laps to go. Teams were in the midst of their final green flag stops, but three drivers had consistently stretched their mileage throughout the day in the hopes of catching a caution that would net them track position.
That group of drivers included Chris Buescher, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Daniel Suarez.
Buescher specifically had continued to stay out after the tire got away from the No. 8 team in the hopes that this would be the caution needed to trap several cars a lap down and give them track position.
NASCAR has pretty consistently waited to throw the caution in similar situations over the years, allowing green flag pit stops to cycle through as to not unfairly affect the teams that had already completed their stops.
But Buescher had been on this strategy throughout the race was remained on track as long as possible hoping that was the break they had waited for. That caution never came and Buescher was forced to pit 12 laps later, which in turn allowed NASCAR to throw the yellow flag so officials could retrieve the tire.
"As we sit in the tower, our role as officials is to basically keep a safe pit road, one, and, two, make sure we have a level playing field for the competitors," Sawyer said. "As the tire became uncontrolled, our first decision was Do we have a safety issue?
"We felt it was far enough away from the racing surface and it also was off pit road. We were in the middle of a green-flag pit stop there, and we want to make sure the teams and their strategies that they have worked up throughout the event, that they’re able to unfold as they played out. We don’t want to get in the middle of that as the league.
"Now, if it’s a bona fide safety had issue, then we’ll have to act on that. As I said earlier, the tire was in a position that we didn’t feel like we had a safety issue. We let the strategy unfold, and once everyone had played out their cards there, we knew we had to go get it, it’s just when you do that. We made the decision and felt like (we) had no real issues after that. That was the right decision for both safety and the competition side."
This is historically the consistent response from the sanctioning body, but this particular instance provided a wrinkle as there wasn’t a lot of precedence for a team on a different strategy, begging the question of if race control should dictate a team’s strategic decisions.
There’s also the matter of consistency, in that the tire was either a safety concern the moment it happened, or it wasn’t.
The dozen laps in between didn’t make it more of a safety matter.
For the most part, contending teams and drivers endorsed how NASCAR handled the matter on Sunday afternoon.
"Somebody is always going to be upset on them deals, and it's kind of pick your poison," Brad Keselowski said.
All is well that ended well for Buescher, who avoided the carnage caused by the resulting restarts and finished the race in eighth. Stenhouse was involved in an incident and didn’t finish the race.
Kyle Busch won the race, outdueling a dominant Kyle Larson over the final 30 laps after the debris caution to retrieve the tire. Crew chief Ben Beshore approved of how the matter was handled too.
"I feel like lately they've been consistent with that kind of stuff where they let it cycle out," Beshore said. "It's nice that they do that because it's not an unfair advantage to the guys that short pitted and somebody just let a tire roll out. I think what they did was right. I was happy with the call. We were ready in case they threw a caution, but to be honest with you I was expecting them to keep it out until it fully cycled, especially with only a handful of laps there left. I didn't feel like it was a safety hazard by any means where it was. It was so far away from the racetrack.
"I think if we were at a different track or say Atlanta and it rolled out from pit stall 40 and was 12 feet from the racing surface, then that's a different story. But where it was, I thought it wasn't a safety issue."