Kurt Busch may spend as much time in the air as on the track at Indy, Charlotte

1 Comment

Kurt Busch’s quest to become the first NASCAR driver in a decade to attempt the “Double” – racing in the Indianapolis 500 on May 25, and then flying to Charlotte to compete in that evening’s Coca-Cola 600 – just became even more challenging.

Of course, Busch has to weigh what he’ll do if there’s rain at Indianapolis on race day. But he’ll have an even more unique hurdle to get over the weekend before.

Because of Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s new qualifying format, announced Friday, Busch will qualify at Indianapolis on Saturday afternoon, May 17, hop a plane almost immediately and high-tail it to Charlotte to race in that evening’s Sprint All-Star Race.

Busch doesn’t want to miss that race, which he’s already won once in 2010 (and then doubled-up the following weekend by winning the 600). While the All-Star event doesn’t pay any points, it does pays a cool $1 million-plus to the winner.

If Busch wins the All-Star race, he won’t have long to celebrate. He’ll be hopping back on a plane to get back to Indy because he’ll have to get back in his Andretti Autosport open-wheeler to determine his starting spot during yet another qualifying session on the following day (Sunday).

Had the 500 still been under the old qualifying format, and if he didn’t need to make the 33-car field on Sunday’s former “Bump Day,” Busch likely would have locked himself into the so-called Greatest Spectacle in Racing on that Saturday. That way, he wouldn’t have had to go to Charlotte and turn back around afterward.

If there’s one good thing about it for Busch, though, at least he has his own plane. Can you imagine trying to do both weekends flying commercially?

Oh yes, one more thing about both weekends if you’re a Busch fan: pray for no rain.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

Leave a comment

Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.