The possibility of Kurt Busch, 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, making his IZOD IndyCar Series racing debut at the 2013 season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana on Oct. 19, was erased Thursday during NASCAR’s Chase media advance at Chicago’s Navy Pier.
Busch’s focus, naturally, will be on pulling a relative upset in the Chase with the single-car Furniture Row Racing operation. Rumors of him entering an IndyCar race this year gained steam after he completed his Rookie Orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this year in Ryan Hunter-Reay’s usual No. 1 DHL Chevrolet for Andretti Autosport.
“It’s a situation where we needed to have things closer,” Busch said. “The dates got too far down the road where we needed to notify Chevrolet that we needed an extra engine to get to Fontana. It was very important in the month of May, but it’s not important now in the middle of September.”
Busch wanted to do it as much for preparation and to have a race under his belt prior to a potential rookie appearance in the 2014 Indianapolis 500.
“It’s not eliminating Indianapolis next year,” he said. “I was just hoping to have more of my homework done, gain more experience and get an education.”
He’s hopeful that another test session can materialize sometime if not at Indianapolis, perhaps at Pocono, where he wants to be able to properly “put the (IndyCar) on edge” and extract maximum speed. His initial test in May was to get comfortable with the car and go through the phases of Indy’s Rookie Orientation Program.
Regarding sponsorship, Busch preferred finding one major sponsor to support his efforts over a consortium.
“There’s a certain value that’s tough for people to commit to,” he explained. “It’s why you see so many cars sponsored by five or six different brands. We’re trying to get that one big fish. We’ll go back to the drawing board.”
Busch’s new contract with Stewart-Haas Racing for 2014 does not prevent him from competing in IndyCar. Considering his versatility, having tested an IndyCar, an Australian V8 Supercar and raced an NHRA Pro Stock car besides his NASCAR commitments, he’d be an invaluable addition to the grid at Indianapolis in the future.
For Tomac at Houston, it was literally a tale of two races. Both his heat and the main started the same with Tomac grabbing the holeshot, but he was passed quickly by Chase Sexton in the heat. Tomac faded quickly after getting passed and was trailing by almost eight seconds at the checkered flag, which caused him to retreat to the hauler and reassess his lines. Without making any adjustments to the bike, Tomac entered the Main with a new attitude, and simply rode better.
Sexton had so great a lead in his heat that one could not even use the cliche that he left Tomac in his dust. By the time the rider with the No. 1 plate crossed the same real estate as the No. 23, the dust was well settled. Sexton had a modest start on the initial gate drop and ended Lap 1 in fourth. He worked his way past Aaron Plessinger on Lap 3 and got around Jason Anderson three laps later. Sexton was able to catch Tomac and pressure him, but he picked a safe, i.e. slow line through the sand section and could never get alongside his rival.
After starting the season with back-to-back seventh-place finishes, Anderson now has a pair of podiums. He won his heat and was easily one of the top three riders in the field, ultimately finishing behind the riders who finished 1-2 in the other preliminary. Anderson was subdued on the podium – happy he was there, but disappointed he has not yet found a way around the riders he is chasing in the points.
In the early stages of the race, Plessinger appeared to have a bike capable of winning. He pressured Tomac on the first two laps and was setting up the pass just as a red flag waved for an injury to Dylan Ferrandis that brought out a red flag. He lost second to Anderson on the restart and eventually slipped to fourth to score his first top-five of the season.
Cooper Webb rounded out the top five. Along with Sexton, he is now one of just two riders with a sweep of that mark in 2023, but with Tomac’s three wins, he is beginning to slip in the points. Webb sits third in the standings, 12 points behind the leader.
Ken Roczen entered the race as the third rider with a sweep of the top five and progressively better results in the first three races of 2023. Had the pattern held, he would have finished at least second, but he struggled for most of the night, finishing fifth in his heat and eighth in the Main. There may have been extenuating circumstances, however. Ferrandis’ injury was suffered when he landed on the back of Roczen’s bike and potentially damaged the No. 94 Suzuki.
The 250 East division made their 2023 debut in Houston, but the name atop the board was familiar. Hunter Lawrence joined his brother Jett Lawrence as the early points’ leader in their respective divisions, but it didn’t come without a little anxiety.
Riding behind Supercross newbie Tom Vialle on the second lap, Lawrence was forced to take evasive action when the leader pitched his bike sideways to scrub speed over a jump. Lawrence veered left and landed off course, but he cleared the Tuff Blox and kept his bike straight. Lawrence made the pass for the lead on Lap 18 and never relinquished it.
England’s Max Anstie made the move from 450s to 250s this year after scoring a best result of 11th on the big bike at Anaheim 2 last year. It didn’t take anytime at all to find the front for Anstie, who finished second in both his heat and main.
It has been a while since Jordon Smith stood on the podium: February 23, 2019 to be exact when he finished that well in Detroit. A series of injuries kept him off the bike for much of 2020 and 2021, but he’s proving to be a factor when he’s healthy.
There was a lot of hype surrounding the debut of Haiden Deegan in the 250 class and he proved it was merited. He finished fourth in his heat and main. He was as far down as ninth at one point in the feature before slowly picking off riders on his way to the front.
Jeremy Martin finished fifth and now has a streak of three consecutive top-fives to his credit stretching back to last year. Unfortunately, his pair of strong runs in 2022 were interrupted by injury.
Making impressive debuts in the 250 division, Vialle recovered from a fall to finish seventh, Chance Hymas finished eighth, and Talon Hawkins just missed the top 10 with an 11th.