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.

Kurt Busch arrives at #CocaCola600 via helicopter.

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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.

Davison, Daly, Kaiser, highlight underdogs of Indy 500 qualifying

Photo: IndyCar
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James Davison and Kyle Kaiser had uphill battles ahead of qualifying for the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Davison, in a one-off joint effort involving A.J. Foyt Racing, Jonathan Byrd’s Racing, and Belardi Auto Racing, appeared to have enough speed to make the “500” field, but a crash on “Fast Friday” put all those hopes in big jeopardy as the team needed to scramble to repair the No. 33 Jonathan Byrd’s Chevrolet in time for qualifying.

However, thanks to a herculean effort that saw the team stay at the track until the early hours of Saturday morning, the car was repaired in time for qualifying, and the team survived a chaotic final hour that saw Conor Daly, James Hinchcliffe, and Pippa Mann all vying alongside them for the final two spots in the field.

In the end, Davison survived the bumping to make the 33-car field, taking the 33rd and final spot in Saturday, and saw a dramatic increase in speed on Sunday to average 226.255 mph, putting him a very solid 19th on the grid.

An emotional James Davison walks back into Gasoline Alley after making the Indianapolis 500 field on Saturday. Photo: IndyCar

“It’s been an incredible weekend for the team after our mishap on Friday,” Davison revealed after Sunday’s qualifying.

He continued, “We had to endure a very long night, obviously it’s always depressing when you have a crashed car around here. We punched above our weight on bump day, and got ourselves in, but didn’t show our hand. We really laid it down on pole day to move from 33rd to 19th. It’s basically two days in a row the team has been rewarded for their hard work, making the show and moving up 14 positions on the grid. Unexpected results are always really nice in motorsports and we got that today with our improvement, substantially. Just very proud of the entire team and want to keep the momentum going next week.”

Conor Daly, too, had a stressful Saturday, as his No. 17 United States Air Force Honda – a joint effort with Dale Coyne Racing and Thom Burns Racing – lacked speed most of the week.

“Fast Friday” yielded some promise, as his quickest no-tow speed was 226.752 mph, good enough for 26th on the no-tow chart that day.

Saturday, however, proved a struggle. Unable to find the speed on his first two runs – he was bumped out of the field after his second attempt – he needed a third and final effort to make the field.

A four-lap average of 224.874 mph didn’t leave him much wiggle room, but it was just enough to get Daly into the field, as he took 32nd on the board. He’ll start 33rd after averaging 224.429 mph on Sunday.

Conor Daly survived a stressful qualifying weekend to make the Indy 500 field. Photo: IndyCar

“No dramas (on Sunday), but we’re fighting for miles an hour. All I can do is put my foot down and do the best we can for our incredible partners at the U.S. Air Force. It’s incredible to be here with them and at this point, I’m just thankful to be in the field. I’d like to be a lot quicker, but we’ll see what we can do in practice tomorrow to improve our race car,” Daly detailed after Day 2 of qualifying.

Kyle Kaiser and Juncos Racing faced a similar uphill battle, but theirs was down to experience. Juncos was entering its second “500” after debuting last year, and their debut wasn’t exactly a smooth one.

Spencer Pigot and Sebastian Saavedra only qualified 29th and 31st respectively, though Saavedra was able to finish on the lead lap in 15th. Pigot, meanwhile, fought major handling issues all race long and languished six laps off the lead at race’s end, finishing in 18th.

The 2018 outing didn’t appear much easier, as the team tackled it with rookie driver Kyle Kaiser, with last year’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champ trying to make the “500” in his first attempt.

“Fast Friday” looked to be a bad omen, as they were 33rd on the no-tow speed charts at the end of the day.

But, Saturday qualifying saw a drastic turn in fortunes, and to the positive side. Kaiser qualified with a four-lap average of 225.934 moh, good enough for 21st at the day’s end, and putting them well clear of any bumping drama.

His Sunday run of 226.398 mph exceeded expectations even further, and he will start Sunday’s race in 17th.

Kyle Kaiser during Indy 500 qualifying. Photo: IndyCar

“What an amazing day. I am in shock right now that we are going to be starting 17th for the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500,” an elated Kaiser exclaimed after Sunday. “It was a stellar performance by the team. They gave me a super quick car for qualifying. The conditions were very challenging as the wind picked up and it got really hot, but we made it through and put in the best lap in these conditions. I am so proud of the entire Juncos Racing crew and I am thrilled to represent NFP in the race next weekend.”

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