Kurt Busch begins his Double with 6th-place finish at Indy 500

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500 miles in an IndyCar down. 600 miles in a stock car to go.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kurt Busch, who today is seeking to become the second driver to run all 1,100 miles of the Indianapolis 500/Coca-Cola 600 “Double, finished an impressive sixth in his first attempt at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

“It was an incredible journey to sniff the lead of the Indy 500 in that lead group,” Busch said in a statement. “I’ll tell you, though, the top five are incredible in this series at getting all they can out of their car, being able to keep it under control and being able to race for position.

“I felt like I could hang on to that lead pack. I gave it my all, and I know the car was better than I was, but I’m very satisfied with the sixth place.”

That replicated the Indy result of NASCAR teammate/boss Tony Stewart in his 2001 “Double.” The man they call Smoke finished sixth for Chip Ganassi in the ‘500’, then finished third in the 600 later that night – a performance that Busch called a “benchmark” for himself two days ago on Carb Day.

After today’s ‘500,’ Busch immediately headed for his flight to Charlotte Motor Speedway, where the green flag for this year’s 600 is expected to drop at 6:18 p.m. ET. He’ll have to start NASCAR’s longest race from the back of the field, as he missed this afternoon’s Sprint Cup drivers’ meeting.

Busch’s girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll, tweeted photos of Busch receiving IV fluids and trying to catch a few Z’s on the flight to CMS.

And around 5 p.m. ET, Busch’s chopper landed in the infield grass along the CMS front-stretch.

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Busch started 12th on the ‘500’ grid, but fell back in the first half of the race as he tried to get acclimated to working in traffic with his No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda – which was originally a backup car for Marco Andretti before Busch crashed his primary car last Monday in practice.

At the halfway point, Busch was right at mid-pack in 17th position. But the former Sprint Cup champion steadily rose toward the front and cracked the Top 10 with around 50 laps to go.

He continued to move up through a string of late cautions, and lined up sixth for the final restart with six laps to go.

That would prove to be as far as he could go, but it was still a steady performance from a driver that, outside of his practice crash, was impressive throughout preparations for the ‘500.’

“Hats off to him,” said team owner Michael Andretti, who got the ‘500’ win with driver Ryan Hunter-Reay. “He did a really good job.  He came in here with the right mindset. He came in with a lot of experience, but still coming in with the mindset of a rookie, like I said. Went to school and was a great student.

“You could tell the way he ran the first part of the race – he fell back, but you could tell he was learning. When he started feeling confident, he started picking them off.”

Andretti noted that Busch thought he had a car capable of an even bigger result if a rookie wasn’t driving it.

“I said, ‘You have nothing to be ashamed of. You did a great month the whole month,'” said Andretti. “It was a pleasure having him on our team. I think everybody on the team really liked having him on. Maybe we’ll do it again sometime.”

Now, Busch will seek to cap off his Double with another great race – but inside the more familiar confines of his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet.

March 28 in Motorsports History: Adrian Fernandez wins Motegi’s first race

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While auto racing is an international sport, oval racing remains uniquely American. 

That almost always has remained the case since the inception of the sport, but in 1998, the citizens of Japan got their first taste of American oval racing.

Having opened the previous year, Twin Ring Motegi was built by Honda in an effort to bring Indy-style racing to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Adrian Fernandez was the first driver to win at the facility, taking the checkered flag in CART’s inaugural race after shaking off flu earlier that day.

Fernandez held off a hard-charging Al Unser Jr to win by 1.086 seconds. The victory was the second of his career and his first since Toronto in 1996.

Adrian Fernandez celebrates with Al Unser Jr and Gil de Ferran after winning the inaugural race at Motegi. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The race was also memorable for a violent crash involving Bobby Rahal.

Running third with 15 laps remaining, Rahal’s right front suspension broke in Turn 2, causing his car to hit the outside wall and flip down the backstretch.

Luckily, Rahal walked away from the accident without a scratch.

“The car was on rails through (turns) 1 and 2, and all of a sudden it just got up into the marbles, and it was gone,” Rahal said. “Thank God we’ve got such safe cars.”

The following season, Fernadez went back-to-back and won again at Motegi. The track remained on the CART schedule until 2002.

In 2003, Honda switched their alliance to the Indy Racing Leauge, and Motegi followed suit.

The track continued to host IndyCar racing until 2011 with the final race being held on the facility’s 2.98-mile road course, as the oval sustained damage in the Tōhoku earthquake earlier that year.

Also on this date:

1976: Clay Regazzoni won the United States Grand Prix – West, Formula One’s first race on the Long Beach street circuit. The Grand Prix would become an IndyCar event following the 1983 edition of the race.

1993: Ayrton Senna won his home race, the Grand Prix of Brazil, for the second and final time of his career. The victory was also the 100th in F1 for McLaren.

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