The last time Kurt Busch was at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he was embarking on a quest to become only the second driver to complete all 1,100 miles of the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in the same day.
Now, the Outlaw is returning to the world’s greatest race course. But there will be no Double this time around – just 400 miles in his No. 41 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet on Sunday at the Brickyard 400.
However, the memories remain from this past May of pushing to not only perform well in a different discipline, but uphold NASCAR’s honor in the world’s biggest race.
“In the world of NASCAR, we race 40 weekends a year and it consumes your life and sometimes can burn you out,” Busch recalled recently. “But Dale [Earnhardt] Jr., is the guy who threw down the gauntlet – ‘You are representing NASCAR’ – and at that point, it hit me that this was bigger than my personal goals.
“I was going to be judged as the only pure NASCAR driver with no Indy experience to go there and compete with the best of the best in their biggest race. I never seem to do things the easy way. I had to pick the year that Indy was at its most competitive.”
But Busch was able to hang with IndyCar’s finest, and that brought him a world of respect from competitors and fans alike.
“When I landed on the front straightaway at Charlotte after finishing Indy, everybody was applauding me like I was no longer the bad guy,” he said. “I was their NASCAR guy coming home, who went to Indy and made them proud so much that people were saying, ‘We always knew he was a racer.'”
Busch is now focusing on what it will take to conquer Indy in a stock car. He’s never won there in 13 Brickyard 400s. But it’s not like he’s the only that’s trying to solve the place. Of the 16 drivers that currently occupy the Chase Grid, he’s among a group of 12 that’s winless there.
A victory on Sunday would give him two for the year (Martinsville), which in turn would make him a virtual lock for the post-season. But it will not be easy.
“Indianapolis is tough,” Busch said. “It’s been a tough place for me but it became even more of a challenge when they did the diamond cutting of the track.
“It’s just hard trying to find the balance you need that works at the beginning and will get you to the end of the race. We tend to have long, green-flag runs there and, for some reason, it has just been a track where I’m still trying to figure out the nuances you need to have a proper-handling car that gets around there and is fast.”