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.”

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”