Busch: ‘Nothing Can Compare’ To Starting Indy
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
A self-described “old-school racer,” Kurt Busch will attempt to become only the fourth driver to compete in IndyCar’s historic Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR’s 600-mile marathon in the same day over Memorial Day Weekend in May.
Busch, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion in 2004, will team with Andretti Autosport in a bid to qualify for his first IndyCar Series race – the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 – on May 25. Busch also plans to complete “The Double” by competing in NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 in Concord, N.C., later that day.
“This is really to challenge myself within motorsports,” said Busch, 35, who is in his first season of driving for Stewart-Haas Racing in NASCAR’s top series. “Perhaps I’m a bit of an old-school racer; a throw-back, I guess. I enjoyed the era of drivers racing different cars and testing themselves in other series. It’s tough to do now for a variety of factors, but when the opportunity is there, I want to do it.
“While NASCAR is my home, I‘ve been fortunate to compete in Pro Stock on the NHRA circuit a number of years ago and test an (Australian) V8 Supercar. This opportunity was a talk with (team-owner) Michael Andretti (along with agent John Caponigro) over dinner one night on ‘What if?’ – and now it’s all becoming a reality for me to drive in the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport. It’s literally a dream come true. To go to the famous Brickyard with the iconic Andretti name, it doesn’t get much cooler or better than that.”
Busch’s Indianapolis 500 Dallara/Honda will complete a stable of five entries for Andretti’s championship winning team at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway. However, this
will not be the first pairing of Busch and Andretti Autosport, as Busch completed a test day at IMS with the team last May. Busch passed sanctioning body INDYCAR’s mandated Rookie Orientation Program to effectively set the possibility of “The Double” into motion.
“I’m really excited to have Kurt come onboard for the Indy 500,” said Andretti, who competed in 16 Indy 500s between 1984 and 2007 with a best finish of second to Rick Mears in 1991.”Kurt did a great job for us when he tested last year. He’s obviously a natural talent and we feel he’s going to take to the Indy car quickly and have a competitive month with us.”
Busch followed-up his Indy car test at IMS by finishing 14th in NASCAR’s Brickyard 400 last summer while driving for Furniture Row Racing.
“That was a whole kid-in-a-candy store moment of experiencing an open-wheel car at 220 mph,” Busch said of his test. “You can definitely get a different appreciation for the track and its heritage with an open-wheel car versus a stock car that I’ve done the last 15 years. It got my mind going and the juices flowing on ‘I want to do this.’ The adrenaline and excitement was there, but last year just didn’t seem like the right timing. Now (after) 11 months of chewing on the fat and working on the details, I’m more excited than ever to do this.”
Qualifications at IMS are scheduled for May 17-18, with final practice on Carburetion Day, May 23. Busch said a testing plan interspersed in the NASCAR schedule with open-wheel teammates Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Carlos Munoz is being drafted.
Busch faces a grueling challenge on Race Day – a combined 1,100 miles of turning left, in two
cities, in two totally different cars. Busch also faces the logistical challenge of practicing and qualifying his Indy car in addition to competing in three NASCAR races around Indy 500 Month of May activities.
Busch will start the two-week Indy 500 stretch in Indianapolis on May 11th, fresh from the NASCAR race at the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway. After spending the week testing the Indy car, Busch will log serious air miles traveling between Indianapolis and Charlotte/Concord so he can qualify for the 500 and practice and qualify for NASCAR’s All-Star Race and the Cup 600-miler.
Busch likely will make more than 10 trips between the cities, the most important and time-
sensitive being on May 25th. Race Day will place Busch in Indianapolis in the morning for the scheduled noon (EDT) start for the Indy 500 before the quick shuttle trip to Charlotte for the 6 p.m. green flag for the Cup race.
While “The Double” will be a new experience for Busch, it will be Andretti’s second time to participate in the unique event. Robby Gordon – who along with John Andretti (Michael’s cousin) and Tony Stewart are the three previous drivers to contest “The Double” – competed in both races in 2003, filling-in at Indianapolis for an injured Dario Franchitti, then driving for Andretti Green Racing.
“It’s great having Tony as the co-owner of my NASCAR team,” said Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS. “In the weeks leading up to the Month of May, it gives me a chance to talk with him about his personal experiences with ‘The Double’ – to anticipate what’s next and have things checked off the list so that I’m mentally and physically prepared for the challenge. I owe a big thanks to Tony, Gene Haas and the partners at Stewart-Haas – ncluding General Motors – for allowing me to challenge myself in motorsports and to do something special in this day and age.”
Busch reiterated that the opportunity to run the Indy 500 will fulfill a boyhood dream. “My dad, a Mac Tools distributor, and I would go to car shows and see Indy cars and he’d say, ‘This is about as close as you’ll ever get to one of these things’ because it was so far removed from what we could dream as a small blue-collar family from Las Vegas,” Busch said. “It’s just the different opportunities that have come up in motorsports (that have led me) to this biggest moment outside of stock cars.
“I went once to watch the 500 with (team-owner) Roger Penske when I first signed a contract with him to drive stock cars. To feel it, to experience it, I’m going to actually revert back to that to try to block-out some of the emotional excitement of what it means to be part of the 500. To drive in it this year, nothing is going to compare, nothing can prepare or get me ready when they drop that green flag and 33 of us rush into Turn 1.”
Busch said he will lean heavily upon his Andretti teammates for information on how to navigate IMS in an open-wheeler. “It’s going to be a steady progression that I have to follow Andretti Autosport’s lead,” Busch said. “We have a full-blown test program to be the best-prepared we can for the Month of May. I will be a rookie, but I bring a lot of oval experience in and we’ll see how we can blend that in.
“It’s about absorbing as much as I can and chewing on it the right way. Sam Hornish Jr. –
who was a teammate of mine at Penske Racing – I mentored him as much as I could on the stock car side. Don’t think I’m not going to call him and try to get that favor back.” A three-time IndyCar Series champion, Hornish won the 2006 Indy 500 for Penske by a margin of 0.0635-seconds over rookie Marco Andretti, Michael’s son.
The last driver to attempt “The Double” was Gordon in 2004. Gordon, who in 2002 and ‘03 raced in both events, started the 2004 Indy 500 but exited IMS at the first red flag (for rain) to head to North Carolina. Jaques Lazier finished the race for Gordon. John Andretti (1994) and Stewart (1999 and 2001) also raced in both events.
Indiana native Stewart, a three-time Cup champion, is the only driver to complete all 1,100 miles – finishing sixth at Indianapolis and third on Charlotte Motor Speedway’s 1.5-mile quadoval in ‘01.
“I want to pop quiz everyone who’s done (“The Double”) to learn as much as I can to just be able to anticipate what’s next and have things checked off your list so that you’re mentally prepared,” Busch said.
From 1961 to 1973, the Indy 500 and World 600 – since rebadged as the Coca-Cola 600 –were held on separate days, allowing drivers to attempt to race in both events. Among the drivers who competed in both races the same year:
1967 _ The World 600 was held on Sunday, May 28, and the Indy 500 was scheduled for Tuesday, May 30. NASCAR star Cale Yarborough became the first driver to compete in both races in the same year. He finished 41st at Charlotte and 17th at Indy.
1968 _The World 600 was held on Sunday, May 26, and the Indy 500 was held on Thursday, May 30. Open-wheeler Jerry Grant became the second driver to compete in both races in the same year. He finished 12th at Charlotte and 23rd at Indy.
1969 _ The World 600 was held on Sunday, May 25, and the Indy 500 was held on Friday, May 30. NASCAR driver Lee Roy Yarbrough won the race at Charlotte; at Indy, he finished 23rd.
1970 _ The World 600 was held on Sunday, May 24, and the Indy 500 was held on Saturday, May 30. NASCAR driver Donnie Allison won the race at Charlotte, and finished fourth at Indy. To-date, this is the best combined performance for both races. Lee Roy Yarbrough also competed in both events. He finished 29th at Charlotte and 19th at Indy.
1971 _ Memorial Day was moved to Monday, and the Indy 500 was held on Saturday, May 29. The World 600 was held the next day. NASCAR driver Donnie Allison finished sixth at Indy on Saturday, and finished second at Charlotte.
1979 _ NASCAR regular Neil Bonnett entered the Indy 500. While working up to speed, his car suffered a blown engine on the morning of Pole Day qualifying. The following weekend, rain complicated his schedule and Bonnett opted to withdraw from Indy.
Busch now is poised to join a very short list of “old-school racers.”
“To add a driver with the résumé of Kurt Busch to the Indianapolis 500 field is a huge gain for INDYCAR,” said Derrick Walker, INDYCAR president of competition and operations. “We want to see the best 33 drivers put their skills to the test on the biggest stage in motorsports, regardless of which series they come from. To attempt ‘The Double’ is a tremendous challenge, and we’re looking forward to watching Kurt accomplish the feat this May.”
An advocate for and representative of The Armed Forces Foundation , Busch will be dedicating his Memorial Day mission to the men and women serving around the world in the United States Military. Fans can show their support by texting AFF to 50555 to pledge $10 to the cause. Fans also will have the opportunity to follow Busch throughout his Month of May on AndrettiTV.com, with details coming soon.
– John Sturbin can be reached at email@example.com Comments