Top NASCAR stories of 2014: No. 10 – Kurt Busch and “The Double”

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source: AP
Kurt Busch starred in his IndyCar debut at the Indy 500, part of his bid to do the Double. Photo: AP.

MotorSportsTalk will be counting down the top 20 stories of the 2014 NASCAR season over the month of December.

Here’s what we’ve done so far:

Today, we’re at No. 10 – Kurt Busch’s bid to accomplish one of racing’s greatest feats…

Kurt Busch wanted a challenge. And in American motorsport, there’s one challenge that stands out from all the rest.

Running the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 in the same day is a test of strength, endurance, and logistics for everyone involved – not just the driver, but also their teams, their sponsors, and their families.

But it’s the driver that has perhaps the most grueling task: 500 miles at Indy, the most famous oval on Earth, followed by 600 miles at Charlotte in NASCAR’s longest race.

Before Busch chose to do “The Double,” the feat had not been attempted since 2004. And only one driver had been able to complete all 1,100 miles of it: Busch’s NASCAR boss/teammate, Tony Stewart, who finished sixth at Indy and then third at Charlotte in 2001.

Stewart’s distinction would remain only his at the end of Busch’s attempt to finish the full Double. On Lap 274 of 400 at Charlotte, the engine on Busch’s No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet gave up the ghost. He had run 906 miles of the 1,100 he was shooting for.

But while Busch’s Double ended abruptly, the world had discovered just how special a talent he is behind the wheel.

Making a debut in an IndyCar can be tough enough, but Busch did it in the “500,” the world’s biggest race. And he did it in a backup car after he had crashed his primary Andretti Autosport Honda during practice that week.

Busch hung in there during the first half of the race, but began a methodical climb from mid-pack as the finish loomed larger. A string of late yellows gave him additional opportunities to gain more ground before he came home sixth in a steady performance that would earn him “500” Rookie of the Year honors.

Celebrations were brief as Busch was whisked away from the Brickyard to begin his journey to Charlotte. After going through bags of IV fluids and taking a nap, the Outlaw arrived for the “600” via helicopter.

source: Getty Images
Kurt Busch charged toward the front in Charlotte but was knocked out early due to an engine failure. Photo: Getty Images.

When he got out of the chopper, he was met with waves of applause from the NASCAR faithful for a job well done in Indiana. Busch started the “600” from the rear of the field due to missing the Sprint Cup driver’s meeting, but worked his way up into the Top 15 toward the halfway point.

But Busch’s progress would be halted. On Lap 225, Busch radioed the team and said the No. 41’s motor had dropped a cylinder. A second cylinder went too, and it was only a matter of time before the whole thing would go as well.

While disappointed with the Charlotte outcome, Busch still regarded the “Double” experience as one that he’ll always cherish.

“To feel the stock car right after driving the Indy car was a day I’ll never forget,” he said. “I can’t let the mood here with the car dampen what happened up at Indy today. That was very special.

“It takes a big team – it takes a team everywhere. Andretti Autosport gave me a Top-5 car to try and win the “500” with, and these Stewart-Haas guys gave me a good car tonight. The motor just went, sometimes that happens.

“All in all, I gave it my all. I tried hard. I had a lot of people helping me out. I want to say thanks to Gene Haas, Tony Stewart, Michael Andretti and this whole group. Everyone worked hard on this on both sides.”

Attention NASCAR teams: IMSA drivers available for Daytona!

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NASCAR will be making its debut on the Daytona International Speedway road course next month, and there’s a big fan who’d like to join the historic weekend.

This fan actually has impressive credentials, too — a few thousand laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile layout that annually plays host to the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

In 2014, the winning GTLM team in the sports car endurance classic included IMSA Porsche driver Nick Tandy, who rabidly has followed NASCAR for more than 30 years since growing up in England.

So why not try racing NASCAR? Especially because Tandy has the weekend of Aug. 14-16 free.

He’s not picky, either — offering up his services on Twitter (as well as those of Porsche teammate Earl Bamber) for an ARCA, Xfinity, trucks or Cup ride.

Tandy’s affinity for American stock-car racing runs deep.

His first trip to the World Center of Racing was as a fan attending the 50th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, 2008. During Rolex testing in January, Tandy, 35, said he hadn’t missed a Cup race on TV in 15 years.

Among his favorite NASCAR drivers: the Earnhardts, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch. When IMSA ran the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2014, Tandy stayed a few extra days at the Brickyard and bought Kyle Busch gear for himself and his children.

He briefly took the stage during a NASCAR weekend last October. After IMSA’s season finale at Road Atlanta, Tandy made a few demonstration laps and a burnout in his No. 911 Porsche before the Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

He also has some experience in stock cars, having raced Modified-type grass-roots series on England’s quarter-mile short tracks.

Couple that with a Daytona road course record that includes two consecutive podium class finishes (including last Saturday) and a sports car resume with 13 IMSA victories and an overall win in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans … and maybe a NASCAR team should take a look.

And Tandy isn’t the only IMSA driver who likely would be available.

Corvette driver Jordan Taylor, who won the 2017 Rolex 24 overall title with Jeff Gordon as a teammate (and the inspiration for his Rodney Sandstrom persona), also tweeted his availability for the weekend on the high banks.

Sports car veteran Andy Lally, a GTD driver with multiple class wins in the Rolex 24 as well as 38 Cup starts (he was the 2011 rookie of the season in NASCAR’s premier series), also hung out his shingle.

There also is AIM Vasser Sullivan’s Jack Hawksworth (who just won at Daytona last Saturday), the Englishman who teamed with Kyle Busch at the Rolex 24 in January and made an Xfinity start at Mid-Ohio last year with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Many sports car drivers (such as Taylor) already live in Florida, and many are hunkering down in the Sunshine State with IMSA returning to action at Daytona last week and Sebring International Raceway next week. Because of COVID-19-related travel concerns and restrictions, several IMSA stars who live outside the country are riding out the pandemic within a few hours of Daytona with nothing to do.

Why not a weekend at the World Center of Racing?

Over the years, scads of “road-course ringers” (including some Formula One veterans) have tried their hands in stock cars at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

How about considering the many sports car drivers who already have reached victory lane at Daytona by making a few right-hand turns, too?