It’s been a decade since any one driver attempted to pull “The Double,” a feat of racing 1,100 miles on Memorial Day weekend.
Kurt Busch’s on Sunday was thwarted short of that milestone, due to an engine failure in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway Sunday night.
But in no way should that diminish his accomplishments, and what he set out to achieve this month at the cathedral of speed that is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Although Kurt goes by “The Outlaw,” and this month, “The Double Outlaw,” we were reminded very simply that Busch is still a badass driver who remains one of the best on the North American motorsports scene.
For Busch to come in and do what he did this month at Indianapolis exceeded most everyone’s expectations.
Heading into the month, other than a pair of one-off tests, he’d never driven an IndyCar and needed to be like a sponge in absorbing all the information he’d be taking in. He’d also need to prepare physically for the challenge.
Busch went in with the right approach, the right mentality and exuded a confidence and attitude that never went over the line in terms of cockiness.
He knew his place at Indy was as a rookie; he made sure to mention that in the myriad number of interviews he had to do throughout the month.
He always gave credit to his four Andretti Autosport teammates, a number which became five when backup driver EJ Viso temporarily filled in for James Hinchcliffe earlier in the month. And he praised the Andretti crew, with veteran Craig Hampson leading the No. 26 Suretone car’s effort and the rest of the engineering staff working in harmony to provide five Hondas with generally outstanding setups.
He gave everything he could in qualifying with his first 230-mph lap, then a 230-mph qualifying run over four laps.
When he made a mistake in practice, crashing in Turn 2 on the Monday before the race, he owned it. It was really the only time all month where he looked like a rookie; his lines both in single-car runs and in traffic were otherwise true to form of what you’d expect from the series regulars at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
And over 500 miles on Sunday, Busch managed the race in a way befitting of a guy who’s raced the event a dozen times or more, rather than one who was in his first ever open-wheel race.
Busch fell to the lower ranges of the top-20 early on but bided his time and waited for things to come to him. Twice, he took excellent evasive action when debris came flying at him. Scott Dixon’s front wing and the debris field after Townsend Bell’s accident both entered Busch’s path.
When he was done, Busch ended sixth overall, top first-timer. And yet he was fourth among the five Andretti Autosport cars, with Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Carlos Munoz first, third and fourth, which spoke to the quality of the entire operation.
He’d done what he’d set out to do, for most of it anyway. What’s been a miserable NASCAR season, save for his Martinsville win, continued after he landed Sunday night in Charlotte with the engine failure.
What does this mean for Kurt, and “the double,” going forward? Several things.
Busch ran well enough to come back in 2015 on merit, if he so desires, and the Andretti team has the infrastructure to make it happen (they likely will, given they’ve added an extra car for the ‘500 each of 2012, 2013 and 2014).
And perhaps, Busch’s success could open the doors to other NASCAR drivers – Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson come to mind off the top of my head – who could be as naturally adept in an IndyCar as was the 2004 NASCAR champ.
Kurt Busch has always been a wheel man. Now, he’s added top rookie finisher in the Indianapolis 500 to his list of accolades.
Outlaw? More like outstanding.