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‘Boss’ Put Brakes on Kyle Busch’s Indy 500 Bid

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, July 23 2017

Kyle Busch, who drove to victory in last year’s Brickyard 400, dearly wanted to run this year’s Indy 500. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Kyle Busch says he was oh-so-close to joining Fernando Alonso as a one-off entrant in May’s 101st running of the Indianapolis 500…until one of his bosses spiked the deal.

“I had it done last year _ sold and everything ready to go _ and I’ve got a boss that said ‘No!’ ” Busch said during a media session previewing NASCAR’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. ”Figure it out. I’ve got two bosses _ one’s a male (team-owner Joe Gibbs) and one’s a female (wife Samantha).”

Busch, the 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, will be aiming for a third consecutive Brickyard 400 victory Sunday around the famed 2.5-mile IMS oval. Busch is a five-time NASCAR winner at IMS, including three victories in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Lilly Diabetes 250. Following sweeps in the Xfinity and Cup series races at IMS in 2015-16, Busch was eager to add a start in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” over Memorial Day weekend to his resume.

Similarly, Alonso _ a two-time Formula One World Driving Champion _ opted to vacate his McLaren/Honda seat and skip the famed Monaco Grand Prix to drive for Andretti Autosport in the Indy 500. The 35-year-old Spaniard was the top-qualifying rookie, in fifth, and led 27 laps _ more than any other first-timer _ before placing 24th after a blown engine in his No. 29 McLaren/Honda on Lap 180 of 200 ended his race while running seventh. Alonso subsequently was voted Sunoco Rookie of the Year.

“I thought that I had a great opportunity to do it,” said Busch, without disclosing specifics about the team with whom he was working. “I’m kind of glad it didn’t come together because Alonso kind of stole the headlines the last time it was done. But, you know, there may be more in the future guys coming over to run that race, so I may have to split the limelight if you will with somebody else that kind of wants to do that race.

“I think it’d be fun. It’d be a unique opportunity. I think the biggest thing that scares my ‘boss’ is that I’ve never driven those cars and so I don’t know _ you know, a Cup car or an

Kyle Busch and one of his two bosses.
(RacinToday/HHP file photo by Andrew Coppley)

Xfinity car or a (Camping World) Truck or something like that _ I know what to feel and how to feel and when something bad starts to happen, I can straighten it out or normally I can try to fix it although that didn’t quite happen one time (Xfinity crash at Daytona International Speedway). So I think that’s probably the biggest fear is just not knowing what those cars do when you get into a bad situation.”

Busch’s older brother, Kurt, generated an Alonso-style media sensation when he qualified for the 2014 Indy 500 with Michael Andretti’s team. The 2004 Cup champion in a Ford fielded by Roush Fenway Racing, Kurt Busch finished sixth _ and was voted Indy 500 Rookie of the Year _ before flying to Charlotte Motor Speedway to complete “The Double” in NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600.

Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Toyota Camry in Cup at IMS, said he felt the fact Toyota does not compete in the Verizon IndyCar Series actually would make it easier for him to land an Indy 500 ride. Chevrolet and Honda currently go head-to-head in the series with twin-turbocharged 2.2-liter V-6 engines, and supply aero-kits as well. However, sanctioning body INDYCAR will introduce a Dallara-based universal chassis for the 2018 season.

“Yeah, it would keep your options open a little bit for either side of the engine manufacturer,” Busch said. “And obviously next year that’s going to change with the aero platform to my understanding with just engines being the culprit and not necessarily being an aero package anymore. If Toyota was a third, I would be limited to that, so it does kind of keep your options open.”

Busch said he is aware of an IMS record book that features superstar competitors from INDYCAR, NASCAR, Formula One and Moto GP.

“I didn’t necessarily know that Michael Schumacher had won three (F1 races for Scuderia Ferrari) in a row here,” Busch said, “but obviously I know that from being in the NASCAR

Older brother Kurt Busch did get his shot at the 500. (File photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

ranks that Jeff Gordon is the winningest driver here being able to win five Brickyard 400s, right? So I keep that in my mind, but would certainly like to think that I’m good enough, my team is good enough, Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing, all of us we can go out there and score another win here and make it three in a row and do something that’s been unprecedented in the NASCAR ranks here.

“I do enjoy watching all forms of racing whether it’s NASCAR, INDYCAR or Formula One_ I do pay attention a little bit, so certainly have my eye on it as much as I can.”

Busch said winning at IMS in NASCAR _ which first competed at the Speedway in 1994 with unprecedented fanfare_ has been “extra special” in his career.

“Certainly there’s no other race I’ve won probably that’s been any bigger than the Brickyard 400,” Busch said. “You know, it’s really cool to be able to come here and have the opportunity to race around the Brickyard and with the amount of heritage and prestige of racing that’s here, it’s pretty special. But a lot of it’s been Indy cars over the years and certainly NASCAR has their history as well and it’s fun to be able to run _ to win back-to-back.

“The last few years we just really have been able to capitalize on what I’ve been feeling in the race car and to be able to work on it and fix it. I feel like that’s probably the biggest thing is just there’s times when you’re at racetracks and you’re working on your car, working on your car, working on your car and it just seems to be doing the same thing over again. You just can’t find the niche that will fix it and I think that Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and myself, we were able to find that here a couple years ago and we’ve been able to answer all of our questions, so that’s certainly been the biggest thing.

“I think we’re now coming here for three years in a row, three different aero packages with the Cup car and so it’s certainly going to be interesting what transpires this year. I mean, it’s pretty cool to come in here thinking that we have a chance to go for three in a row and, you know, it’s ultimately frustrating in the same breath that it’s been 365 days since we’ve won one of these (Cup) things. It’s certainly hasn’t been from lack of effort or fast race cars _ thanks  to everybody at TRD (Toyota Racing Development) and Joe Gibbs Racing _ our Toyota’s been good. It’s just every single week it seems to be something else that kind of bites us, you know? It’s not the same thing over and over again that we’ve got to fix, so it’s just little things here or there that keep kind of working against us.

“But there are two other cars that have been fast _ the No. 78 (Martin Truex Jr.’s Toyota) and the No. 42 (Kyle Larson’s Chevrolet SS) have been really, really good. I feel like we’ve been right there with them, but maybe a tick behind. Maybe we’ve been the third-best car every single week, so we haven’t been the guy _ not every week.

“Man, again, I wouldn’t say we’ve struggled. We’ve led plenty of laps this year. We’ve been in plenty of positions to win. We don’t have the win numbers to show for that, but as far as it goes, I mean I’d like to say that we’re just not showing all of our cards or the luck bank isn’t showing us all of our luck yet, you know? I don’t know what it is, but if that’s what the swing is going to be _that they’re going to punish you in the beginning part of the year or you can win races there in order to reward you at the end to the year _ I would certainly take that. We just have to see how it plays-out.”

Looking to win the Xfinity race at IMS for the third straight year, Busch instead ended up 12th in the No. 18 Toyota after a tire-change gamble failed. He did, however, lead a race-high 44 of 100 laps in an event won by rookie William Byron.

But Busch earned a bit of redemption two hours after that disappointment. He drove to a dominant second consecutive pole for the Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400 after a top lap of 187.301 mph during the third round of qualifying. Kevin Harvick, the 2003 Brickyard 400 winner, will start alongside Busch on the front row after a top lap of 186.332 mph in the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion.

Former Brickyard winners Jamie McMurray and Jimmie Johnson occupy the second row. McMurray, the 2010 winner, qualified third at 186.274 mph in the No. 1 Cessna/McDonald’s Chevrolet SS, while four-time winner Johnson was fourth at 185.851 mph in the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevy SS. Earnhardt, making his final Brickyard start, qualified 13th in the No. 88 Nationwide Chevy SS.

The race, scheduled to start at 2:30 p.m. (EDT) Sunday, will be televised by NBC.

As an aside, Busch noted that he and Samantha actually met at IMS 10 years ago, when he was giving pace car rides for Chevrolet as a member of Hendrick Motorsports and she was working in a promotional role for the manufacturer.

“She was just kind of checking IDs for people and whatnot and writing some information down and I kind of saw her from a distance,” Busch said, “and asked my PR person to go ask her if she would like to take a tour around the racetrack. And so she did and she got in the car with me and I took her around and she was like, ‘Oh, man, you’ve got a way better gig than I did!’ She didn’t know who I was…”

Here and now, Kyle’s boss temporarily has nixed the idea of him adding a Baby Borg Indy 500 trophy to his NASCAR hardware from IMS.  “I’m good,” Busch said. “I’d like to be able to just have an opportunity to go out and earn it myself and if that day ever comes then we’ll see what happens.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, July 23 2017
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