Today was about getting back on the horse for Kurt Busch.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series star is set to become the first driver since Robby Gordon in 2004 to run the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, and he will try to be the second to run all 1,100 miles of that arduous “Double.”
Up to last Monday, his preparations for the ‘500’ in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda had been relatively smooth. But that all changed when he got loose in Turn 2 and crashed hard in practice.
The Andretti camp has since moved him to one of Marco Andretti’s backup cars for Sunday’s Greatest Spectacle in Racing. And today on Carb Day, Busch took it out on track for the first time since his Monday incident.
He was only 15th-fastest in the final practice session with a quick lap of 224.684 miles per hour. But instead of speed, he was seeking to get more acclimated with running in traffic and dealing with the IndyCar version of the draft – which he considers “much more violent” than what he usually encounters in a stock car.
“It’s just a matter of anticipating what’s in front of you, getting a run on the guys,” said Busch, who will start 12th in the ‘500.’ “With the bigger packs out there, it dirties up the air. It makes you very busy inside the car.
“Today I was able to feel busy, to stay on top of the adjustments, and to communicate to the crew what I think I need for Sunday’s race.”
With his ‘500’ preparation now complete, Busch gave himself a B-minus grade for his Indy efforts while noting the traffic matter. He believes that he’ll need the first half of the race to get used to passing and letting his rivals “feel confident around [me].”
But that’s not keeping Busch from aiming for a high goal in his attempt to do the Double. In 2001, his NASCAR teammate and boss, Tony Stewart, finished sixth at Indy with Chip Ganassi and then third in the Coke 600 for Joe Gibbs.
A similar outcome would be a great performance from “The Outlaw,” who continues to sense that the spotlight on him is getting brighter and brighter.
“As each day gets closer, you’re getting more anxious to get it done because you’ve been preparing for so long, then experiencing so many new things,” he said.
“I’m the least prepared of the individuals who have done the Double. They’ve all come from the open-wheel world and settled into the NASCAR world. For me, the lack of experience in the IndyCar world is what makes this fun, exciting, challenging.
“At the end of the day, it’s just about giving it my best and not making a mistake on Sunday to try to get 1,100 miles in.”
Tomorrow, Busch will be back in Charlotte preparing for the Coke 600 with a pair of Sprint Cup practice sessions (9:30-10:20 a.m. ET, 1-2 p.m. ET) before the Nationwide Series stages its 300-mile race. Busch will start 28th in the ‘600’ on Sunday night.
THROUGH THE YEARS: The Double on Memorial Day Weekend
1994 – John Andretti
Indy 500: Finished 10th…Coca-Cola 600: Finished 36th
1997 – Robby Gordon
Indy 500: Finished 29th…Coca-Cola 600: Finished 41st
1999 – Tony Stewart
Indy 500: Finished 9th…Coca-Cola 600: Finished 4th
2000 – Robby Gordon
Indy 500: Finished 6th…Coca-Cola 600: Finished 35th
2001 – Tony Stewart
Indy 500: Finished 6th…Coca-Cola 600: Finished 3rd (First and only time all 1,100 miles have been completed)
2002 – Robby Gordon
Indy 500: Finished 8th…Coca-Cola 600: Finished 16th
2003 – Robby Gordon
Indy 500: Finished 22nd…Coca-Cola 600: Finished 17th
2004 – Robby Gordon
Indy 500: Finished 29th…Coca-Cola 600: Finished 20th.
*Davy Jones attempted to run The Double in 1995, but failed to qualify for the Coca-Cola 600. He finished 23rd at Indy.