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.”

An IndyCar iRacing Challenge at Talladega? Drivers have discussed it

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If Dale Earnhardt Jr. is interested in an IndyCar iRacing event on an oval, he might like the latest idea being kicked around by NTT Series drivers.

“I personally would want to run at Talladega, but I don’t think that’s an option,” Arrow McLaren SP driver rookie Oliver Askew told NBCSports.com in a Friday interview about his simulation work for the second round of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge. “IndyCar drivers have a group chat with iRacing, and someone had the idea of running at Talladega, and I thought it was brilliant.”

It actually would be a throwback of sorts as a USAC-sanctioned race with Indy cars at Talladega nearly happened 40 years ago.

The IndyCar iRacing Challenge will be running its second consecutive road course Saturday at Barber Motorsports Park (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN or streaming here).

Of the four remaining races in the six-race series, there’s a chance that three of them could be ovals: A Drivers’ Choice track April 11; a “Random Draw” April 18 and a non-IndyCar “Dream” track May 2 (the April 25 race will be at Circuit of the Americas).

ENTRY LIST: Who will be racing at Barber

SPOTTER GUIDE: All 29 of this weekend’s paint schemes

IndyCar drivers are voting on next week’s track, and the options include high-speed ovals such as Texas Motor Speedway and Michigan Speedway.

A multicar crash at Talladega last October. (Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Talladega apparently isn’t on the list for next week, but surely it could be considered for a future race if it meant having Earnhardt in the field. The 15-time NASCAR Most Popular Driver is a six-time winner at Talladega, and the NASCAR on NBC analyst’s family is synonymous with the 2.66-mile oval where his late seven-time champion father won a record 10 times.

“I hope he can make that happen,” Askew said of racing against Earnhardt. “I hope IndyCar can grant his wish on that.”

The addition of Earnhardt would fit well with an IndyCar iRacing Challenge that already features champions from NASCAR (Jimmie Johnson) and Supercars (Scott McLaughlin).

Will Power would like to see more of that.

“I think that would be great if we can get big-name drivers from other series,” Power said. “Getting a couple guys from Europe would be cool.”