Monday, May 26, 2014

Kurt Busch Double Duty: Solid Indy 500 Debut Goes South in Charlotte

Busch shares a laugh with Scott Dixon and Juan
Pablo Montoya during driver introductions at Indy
credit: IndyCar Media/Jim Haines
It wasn’t quite the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, but Kurt Busch’s “double duty” debut didn’t end quite as well as he hoped.

Busch, who started the 2014 Indianapolis 500 from P12 in the No. 26 Suretone Honda entry from Andretti Autosport, finished on the lead lap in sixth place in the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” completing the first 500 miles of the 1,100 schedule for the day on Sunday.

“What an unbelievable experience,” said Busch after his IndyCar debut. “It is a dream come true to have an Andretti Autosport car to drive at Indy. I’m sure the car was a top five car. I was on edge those two restarts, making adjustments, trying to find air. I had to lift a little bit in turn two all day.”

Busch, Houston and Patricia Driscoll
at Indy
credit: IndyCar Media/Chris Owens
“All in all, I’m very pleased. I can’t believe the execution of this team. It’s a team effort, not just an individual. To be able to post a sixth-place finish was beyond my wildest expectations. We settled in and ran laps and tried to pace ourselves. I just tried to feel the car all race long. My throat’s real dry because I was smiling the whole time and fresh air was coming in my mouth.”

Busch, his girlfriend Patricia Driscoll and her son Houston – as well as a doctor and nurse to monitor the 2004 Cup Series champ – then headed south from Indianapolis to Concord, North Carolina, where fans and fellow competitors were cheering his arrival.

Unfortunately, his luck didn’t extend to Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Busch's helicopter arrives at
Charlotte Motor Speedway
credit: Getty Images/Matt Sullivan
After starting at the back of the pack due to missing the drivers’ meeting, Busch worked his way through the field in the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing, running in the top 15 and on the lead lap at the midway point of the race. An incident on pit road left Busch with rear end damage and a broken left rear shock just past the halfway point. On Lap 225, Busch reported to his team that he had dropped a cylinder, and one lap later, another. Busch nursed the engine as long as he could until it expired on Lap 271.Busch finished 40th at Charlotte Motor Speedway, completing 406.5 miles of the scheduled 600 in the Coca Cola 600.

“The motor blew,” said Busch. “It acted like it swallowed three cylinders all at once, and so it was really slow. It's kind of a shame, you know. It almost symbolizes how tough it has been this year on the Haas Automation team. We gave it our all, and the way we were clawing it up there and got a lucky break with the caution one time. I thought we were making good gains on the car, and it was great to race in traffic.”

“To feel the stock car right after driving the Indy car was a day I'll never forget. 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-five 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.”
Houston, Patricia and Busch at CMS
credit: Getty Images/Jared C. Tilton

Busch summed up his experience as a challenge he enjoyed, and said he’d do it again – with the right support.

“Today is a memory I’ll have forever,” said Busch. “It was a challenge I put forth for myself. I enjoyed it. I soaked it all in up North. I loved racing up in Indy in front of all the Indiana natives and the Hoosiers. They love their speedway up there. That speedway loves them. That’s what I really saw out of that track today. There was a grand stage to stand on and represent NASCAR. We brought her home in sixth place. I didn’t think I had anything for those top five guys. They were racing hard. And those were the top five in that series. They’re strong. They’re tough.”

“I’d love to do it again,” he continued. “And at the same time, you’ve got to do it with quality teams. The teams really can make the big difference in all of this. And I have to thank Andretti and I have to thank Stewart-Haas.”

Busch’s attempt will also open up the door for more drivers to attempt “the double.” Will the next one be Busch’s Cup Series co-owner Tony Stewart, who is currently the only driver to complete all 1,100 miles of “the double,” or Busch’s brother Kyle, who has also expressed interest in running both races? Will it be Danica Patrick, who made her name in the Verizon IndyCar Series and became the first woman to lead laps in the Indy 500, or one of the Sprint Cup Series drivers who got their starts in open-wheel racing, like Kasey Kahne or Kyle Larson? Will it be someone with Hoosier ties, like Indiana natives Ryan Newman or Jeff Gordon? Tell Skirts & Scuffs in the comments what you think!