Kurt Busch gets comfortable in traffic on first day of Indy 500 official practice

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The runs Kurt Busch had made up to Sunday in the No. 26 Suretone Honda for Andretti Autosport were solely single-car runs, where he had a chance to acclimate simply to the nature and handling of the lighter, less powerful IndyCar compared to the heavier, more brutal and higher horsepower NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car.

Sunday marked Busch’s first chance to run in traffic, in dirty air, in a moment he appreciated. He banked 31 laps on the day, with his fastest on lap 29 of 220.352 mph good for P12 on the time sheets.

“It was a nice rookie day to go play in traffic,” said the 2004 Sprint Cup champion. “The Andretti Autosport guys ramped up where we are with the levels, to get in dirty air. Today was a nice shakedown, and the second run was a baseline run.  It was nice to have a champion, Ryan Hunter-Reay, take me around, and then with Munoz and E.J. Viso. It’s just neat to move to the next step, which is to go out there in dirty air and draft with teammates.”

Busch described the difference of running in traffic in NASCAR versus traffic in IndyCar as “times 10,” in IndyCar, so he could easily catch the car in front of them. With less horsepower, it’s a lot to digest.

“At 220 things are moving quick, but it’s a lot of fun,” he said. “Today I can draw a checkmark through the day as a successful rookie day in playing with dirty air. The next day we have to advance that, and the next day we have to advance it again. Thursday we’re going to look at taking downforce off the car to get into qualifying mode. We’ll see how it all pans out.”

Additionally, although there was talk of Busch doing his first IndyCar race last fall in the season finale at Auto Club Speedway, he was pleased he opted not to do so, citing a lack of proper preparation.

“I’m glad I skipped out on Fontana last fall,” he admitted. “That would have been like drinking through a funnel, more of a keg stand I think. Because of all the practice days, it’s going to help me get comfortable and digest the information. I think with just a one-day practice at Fontana last fall, it wouldn’t have been a good idea.”

Busch and the rest of the five-car Andretti Autosport effort resume practice on Monday.

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”