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

1 Comment
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.”

March 28 in Motorsports History: Adrian Fernandez wins Motegi’s first race

Leave a comment

While auto racing is an international sport, oval racing remains uniquely American. 

That almost always has remained the case since the inception of the sport, but in 1998, the citizens of Japan got their first taste of American oval racing.

Having opened the previous year, Twin Ring Motegi was built by Honda in an effort to bring Indy-style racing to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Adrian Fernandez was the first driver to win at the facility, taking the checkered flag in CART’s inaugural race after shaking off flu earlier that day.

Fernandez held off a hard-charging Al Unser Jr to win by 1.086 seconds. The victory was the second of his career and his first since Toronto in 1996.

Adrian Fernandez celebrates with Al Unser Jr and Gil de Ferran after winning the inaugural race at Motegi. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The race was also memorable for a violent crash involving Bobby Rahal.

Running third with 15 laps remaining, Rahal’s right front suspension broke in Turn 2, causing his car to hit the outside wall and flip down the backstretch.

Luckily, Rahal walked away from the accident without a scratch.

“The car was on rails through (turns) 1 and 2, and all of a sudden it just got up into the marbles, and it was gone,” Rahal said. “Thank God we’ve got such safe cars.”

The following season, Fernadez went back-to-back and won again at Motegi. The track remained on the CART schedule until 2002.

In 2003, Honda switched their alliance to the Indy Racing Leauge, and Motegi followed suit.

The track continued to host IndyCar racing until 2011 with the final race being held on the facility’s 2.98-mile road course, as the oval sustained damage in the Tōhoku earthquake earlier that year.

Also on this date:

1976: Clay Regazzoni won the United States Grand Prix – West, Formula One’s first race on the Long Beach street circuit. The Grand Prix would become an IndyCar event following the 1983 edition of the race.

1993: Ayrton Senna won his home race, the Grand Prix of Brazil, for the second and final time of his career. The victory was also the 100th in F1 for McLaren.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter