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Busch’s historic Indy chase includes hope for 500-600 double

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Indianapolis is quickly becoming Kyle Busch’s favorite racing venue.

Ten years ago, he met his future wife, Samantha, at the 2.5-mile oval.

Last year, he pulled off a rare sweep by winning both poles and both races on Brickyard 400 weekend. It’s the last time Busch celebrated a Cup win and now that he’s back at the historic 2.5-mile oval, he doesn’t want to wait until next September to make a return trip. He’d like to add a May stop to his already full 2018 schedule ad attempt the fabled double bill of the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600.

“I had it (a deal) done last year, sold it and everything,” Busch said when asked about competing in the Indy 500. “I had a boss that said no.”

Busch, the 2015 Cup champion and two-time defending Brickyard champ, hasn’t given up on his dream; he’s just putting it on hold temporarily this weekend as he chases history and tries to end a 12-month victory drought.

He couldn’t have picked a better place to come. Over the past two years, Busch has been the most dominant stock-car driver at Indy.

The two-time defending Brickyard champion has led 168 of the last 189 laps here, including a record 149 out of 170 last year when he won from the pole. He also won the 2015 and 2016 Xfinity Series races from the pole, giving him four consecutive wins at Indianapolis.

When the track opened for Xfinity practice Friday, Busch’s car was near the top again – even with restrictor-plate motors.

Busch still had the third-fastest car in the first two practice sessions, turning a fast lap of 166.162 mph as overcast skies cooled the track. The Xfinity qualifications and race will be held Saturday, the same day Busch and the other Cup drivers also will take their first laps.

Even as Busch talks about winning an unprecedented third straight Brickyard, the thrill of taking a shot in IndyCar’s marquee race – and trying the 1,100-mile Memorial Day weekend double – remains a major attraction for the 32-year-old driver.

“I thought I had a great opportunity to do it (in May), but I’m kind of glad it didn’t come together because (Fernando) Alonso kind of stole the headlines the last time it was done,” Busch said. “It would be fun. It would be a unique opportunity. The thing that scares my boss is that I’ve never driven those cars.”

If he goes for it, Busch would start the day in Indianapolis for the 500 then fly to Charlotte, North Carolina, for the 600-mile Cup race. His brother, Kurt Busch, tried that in 2014 and finished sixth at the Indy 500 before a blown engine knocked him out of the NASCAR nightcap.

It would be the first time brothers have attempted the marathon.

Alonso had never driven an IndyCar or even on an oval before May. Yet the two-time Formula One champ spent most of May’s race in contention before a blown engine knocked him out with 20 laps to go.

Busch thinks his experience – and success – at the Brickyard would make him just as competitive.

In 12 Indy starts, Busch has 10 top-10 finishes. He is one of four Cup drivers with at least two Brickyard titles and last year joined seven-time Cup champ Jimmie Johnson as the only back-to-back race winners. Johnson won in 2008 and 2009.

Somehow Busch has fought through the sweltering mid-summer temperatures and found the secret to winning on this narrow, low-banked oval where passing is tough.

Busch’s success puts him in rare company.

The only driver in track history to win four straight races at Indy is Michael Schumacher, the former Formula One superstar who won each U.S. Grand Prix from 2003-06 on the speedway’s road course. Nobody else has captured three consecutive major race titles at Indy, and if Busch extends his winning streak to five on Saturday, it would break Schumacher’s record.

A win Sunday would also give Toyota its 100th Cup victory, assure Busch of a spot in NASCAR’s playoff and give Joe Gibbs Racing its second win in two weeks after starting the season 0 for 17.

“It’s pretty cool to come in here and have a chance to go for three in a row,” Busch said. “But it’s frustrating that it’s been 365 days since we’ve won one of these things.”

And he would rather not have to wait even longer to give Indy a shot next season.

“I’m good,” he said when asked if he’d trade his Brickyard wins for an Indy 500 crown. “I’d just like to have a shot to go and earn it myself.”

Chilton caps off stellar month of May with hard luck P4 at Indy 500

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INDIANAPOLIS – It speaks volumes of the confidence and maturation of Max Chilton in his second go-around at the Indianapolis 500 that a Verizon IndyCar Series career-best fourth place, after leading a race-high 50 laps in the No. 8 Gallagher Honda or Chip Ganassi Racing, was a proper disappointment.

But indeed, Chilton’s capped off a month where he’s banked back-to-back IndyCar career-best results – first a seventh place in the INDYCAR Grand Prix and then fourth on Sunday in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil – and has leapt from 18th to 11th in the points standings as a result.

Chilton looked a realistic winner for most of the race after recovering from an ill-handling car in his first stint. He started 15th but tumbled to 27th in the first 26 laps before his first pit stop.

The gamble that paid dividends though was to go off sequence and pit during the second full-course caution period on Lap 68. Once a further full-course caution flew on Lap 81 for debris, Chilton and Will Power stayed out while the rest of the field pitted.

That netted him the lead for the first time on Lap 84 and vaulted him from 24th up the order. The track position was key and as Chilton found, his car was excellent in clean air but struggled once he got behind others. Nonetheless, his strategy and hopes would ebb and flow the rest of the race as he remained part of the top 10 runners.

It was setting up that Chilton and Power were positioning themselves to pull an Alexander Rossi-type-of strategy from there and make the race on one fewer pit stop, but that idea ended when Chilton bailed out and pitted on Lap 124 with five others, including eventual third place finisher Ed Jones. It kept them off-sequence but meant they’d still need to do two more stops before taking the checkered flag.

Chilton returned to the lead on Lap 139 as others pitted and after a quick exchange with Ganassi teammate Charlie Kimball, led from Laps 148 through to 165, before another caution flew as Kimball’s Honda engine expired.

The Kimball caution took everyone’s possible strategic elements out of play and positioned the field for a final sprint to the finish.

It was there Chilton showcased his race craft, with excellent defense against Jones, Helio Castroneves, and eventual winner Takuma Sato.

Chilton had to watch in the rear view mirror as Sato completed his move of the race, a three-wide around the outside double pick-off of Castroneves and Jones, prior to Fernando Alonso’s retirement.

Chilton defended on the final five laps from Sato, then Castroneves, before Castroneves got around him for the lead on Lap 194. Sato followed him through for second on the same lap, and Jones got him for third a lap later to leave the Reigate, England native in an unrepresentative fourth place.

As with Jones though, Chilton had shown he properly belonged at the front of the field.

“The Gallagher Honda was struggling a lot early in the race and we even went a lap down,” Chilton said post-race. “But we kept our heads down, kept going and got a break. I don’t think anyone has ever won this race without a little bit of luck.

“When we did end up getting out front, the car was really quick, and you can see why this place is so special and so electric in that moment.

“I held (Takuma) Sato off with everything I had, but when the cars gang up behind you, they get a massive run and you can only do so much as the leader. As soon as they got past, I wasn’t as confident in the dirty air.

“To come from a lap down to lead and have a chance to win here at Indy is a massive accomplishment for the whole team.”

Photo: IndyCar

The race for Chilton played out almost exactly as he predicted on Thursday, when we spoke to him during Indianapolis 500 media day.

“Temperature wise I don’t think there’s much in it. I think Honda has the best package overall for racing, power, and fuel economy,” Chilton told NBC Sports then. “Ed (Carpenter) looked strong in qualifying but whether they’re strong over a stint is a different matter. I know the Penskes are struggling, which is a sign Chevrolet is, because they’re the ‘works’ team.

“I feel good in what Scott’s got; he was quickest in qualifying and I was strongest in ‘race day running,’ if you want to call it that. But I feel we’ve got a good package. Maybe 22 others can win though! You’ve got to do the best job you can though and if it’s your day, it’s your day.”

Chilton was bullish even on Thursday that he knew he had a car that could win, and wouldn’t be happy unless he did. He so very nearly backed that up with a performance worthy of a victory.

“I want to win it! To be honest top-fives are pointless here. Charlie, my teammate, has been finished top five a few times here, and he said, ‘I was third here once – I won an interview – and that was it.’

“There’s no such thing as a podium here; if you’re second you’re first loser, and it’s a face that doesn’t particularly look like yours that’s on the Borg-Warner Trophy!”

Indeed Chilton’s face is not Sato’s, but after an effort like Chilton, in tandem with engineer Brandon Fry and strategist Julian Robertson put together on Sunday, that day when his face appears on the trophy could come soon enough.

Team Penske has bittersweet overall finish in Indianapolis 500

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Even though it had five drivers – just under one-seventh of the 33 cars in the field – Team Penske had a bittersweet overall showing in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.

Celebrating its 51st season in motorsports, Team Penske was searching to extend its record 16 wins in the Greatest Spectacle In Racing, but came up real short — as well as not so short.

The good aspect was Helio Castroneves finishing a close second to race winner Takuma Sato. Castroneves came so close to winning a fourth time at Indianapolis, which would have tied one of the most elite records in motorsports history shared by A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

Instead, Castroneves finished second for the third time in his career at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“It’s tough to accept,” Castroneves said. “I did my best. I really pushed it. The guys did a phenomenal job. We drove our heart, no question.

“The good news, sounds like we’re leading the points (he leads teammate Simon Pagenaud — who is also tied with 500 winner Takuma Sato and 500 polesitter Scott Dixon — by a 245 to 234 point margin. Hey, there is always a positive note. I think that it is very positive.

“Yes, finishing second again sucks. So close to get the fourth. I really am trying. I will not give up this dream. I know it’s going to happen.”

Castroneves almost ran head-on into disaster on Lap 53, when Jay Howard and Scott Dixon crashed. Somehow, Castroneves was able to sail under Dixon, whose car went airborne after contact with Howard’s car, and continued on.

“What can I say? My race was pretty adventurous,” Castroneves said with a smile. “We have a lot of things. We started from the back. I knew I had a good balance. Then we went to the front about lap 50, then were in the top 10.

“Unfortunately with the accident with Dixon and (Howard), we broke a winglet and broke the front wing because it went off the track. I don’t know how to be honest. It was a good save, I have to say that. This place brings the best out of me. It was pretty good.”

Sato passed Castroneves for the lead heading into Lap 196. Castroneves rallied to pull even with Sato with three laps to go, but couldn’t complete the pass.

“I tried everything I could with three laps to go, two laps to go,” Castroneves said. “I went outside. Unfortunately my tires were overshot a little bit. I would have ended up in the wall. I thought it was good timing because I would try to make a move again. Man, he just took off and that’s it. That was my last chance.

“Really disappointed for the fans, for obviously my team. They gave me a great car. I did everything I could, trust me, everything I could. Unfortunately, second place is the best for us today.”

Castroneves said he’ll once again go for No. 4 in 2018: “Sorry, next year, then.”

Also having a good day was former 500 champ Juan Pablo Montoya, who finished sixth in a one-off Verizon IndyCar Series start.

“Our Fitzgerald Glider Kits Chevy was good,” Montoya said. “We had a problem there in the beginning when we ran out of gas in Turn 3. We should have had another half-gallon in the car. It put is in a tough position because we lost a lot of positions there. From there to come back to where we finished was great. We ran 12th or 13th most of the day and then the car was really good at the end of the race. The balance just wasn’t there. Then I told the guys on the last stop, let’s take swing and we did and the car came to life. I would have liked to have had some more laps at the end.”

Defending IndyCar champion Simon Pagenaud finished 14th.

“It wasn’t the finish we wanted today for the Menards Chevrolet team,” Pageaud said. “But for the big picture it was a decent day. We’re still in that top group in points as we head to Detroit. That’s a place that suits us pretty well. The (Indianapolis) 500 remains a goal and we’ll take another shot at it next year.”

Then came the bittersweet aspect. Two drivers that many felt would win Sunday – Will Power and the latest addition to Team Penske, Josef Newgarden – were involved in the same wreck late in the race that ended their days.

Newgarden finished 20th, while Power finished 23rd, both collected in a late race wreck.

“It was an OK day,” Newgarden said. “We just got caught up in that wreck there at the end. That hurt us. When we were up front we were good. We seemed to keep racing ourselves toward the front of the field. Then we would just get dropped back by a couple of issues. If we would have been up front the whole time, I think we could have finished in the top five. We performed really well today, things just didn’t go out way.”

Added Power, “I’m not sure what happened out there. All I know that I was sliding backward. It was an up and down day for the Verizon Chevy. We were able to stick our nose in there a few times and we were stuck back in the back other times. Then, we got caught up in that deal at the end that ended our day. We’ll move on to Detroit. The thing about this race is that we get to turn the page pretty quickly.”

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Big wreck late in Indy 500 takes out Power, Hinchcliffe, two others

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A major wreck with 17 laps left in the Indianapolis 500 has occurred, involving five cars.

Oriol Servia, James Hinchcliffe, James Davison, Will Power and Josef Newgarden were involved in the incident, as they exited Turn 1 into the short chute to Turn 2.

All but Newgarden saw their day come to an end in the wreck. Newgarden wasn’t directly involved in the wreck, but spun avoiding the other cars, tapped the inside retaining wall, and spun back onto the racetrack.

Max Chilton is leading the race, with Takuma Sato second, followed by Ed Jones, Helio Castroneves and JR Hildebrand.

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Buddy Lazier’s wreck forces teams to reconsider strategies in remainder of Indy 500

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Buddy Lazier has been involved in a single-car crash in Sunday’s 101st Indianapolis 500.

The 49-year-old Lazier, who won the 1996 Indy 500, was entering Turn 2 on Lap 122 when the back end of his car came around, backing him into the wall.

Lazier exited the car under his own power and was taken to the infield care center.

While the wreck itself was fairly routine, the bigger picture is the pit strategy that teams will take in light of Lazier’s wreck. Several drivers started coming onto pit road on Lap 124 – 76 laps from the finish of the scheduled 200-lap event.

But several others stayed out on the track to try and gain track position. If the race continues under green, the strategies in play after Lazier’s wreck could become the difference between who wins and who falls short.

Ryan Hunter-Reay is running first, followed by Fernando Alonso and Alexander Rossi.

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