Kurt Busch was in rare form.
On pit road at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, in front of the gathered media, the NASCAR star and self-proclaimed “outlaw” gave thanks to those who made his 12th-place qualifying effort possible.
First came the corporations. “Suretone Entertainment helped make all of this happen,” he said. “Great sponsors. Monster Energy, Cessna. Basis Watches keep track of my heart rate, which is through the roof.”
The Las Vegas native had qualified not for the Brickyard 400, which Busch has raced in 13 times since joining the NASCAR Cup circuit in 2000. The 2004 Sprint Cup champion was thanking his sponsors for helping him qualify for his first Indianapolis 500. A qualifying speed of 230.782 mph helped make that a reality, though with only 33 cars entered, he was never in danger of missing out.
Busch is attempting to join a very exclusive club of drivers who have successfully done “The Double,” the feat of racing, on the same day, in the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Busch also gave his thanks to his girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll, and his assistant, Kristy, for coordinating the seemingly nonstop travel between Indy and Charlotte, cities separated by nearly 600 miles. “It’s been great, the whole experience,” he said, but added that “last night, going back to Charlotte, running in the All-Star Race, I didn’t feel 100 percent. I think I have to pace myself up here at 95 percent. Because if I try to go 100, the next thing I know my tank will be empty. It’s a long process to make it through this double.” It helps that Busch, a 25-time winner in NASCAR’s Cup series, has a team in each series (Stewart-Hass and Andretti Autosport) willing to let him attempt the task.
Busch said that upon his arrival in Charlotte Saturday night, his fellow NASCAR drivers were “curious” about his experience in Indianapolis.
“Everybody wants to know what it feels like, what it drives like. There’s the curious minds, and it’s hard to explain it all in just one quick phrase,” Busch said. “It’s a challenge to drive in different disciplines of motorsports against the best in both series. You have to take a step back and just try to focus in every time you belt in on where you are.”
Why the curiosity? Busch is only the fourth driver ever to attempt “The Double,” joining the ranks of John Andretti (1994), Busch’s own Cup team owner Tony Stewart (1999, 2001), and Robby Gordon.
Gordon tried “The Double” five times from 1997 to 2004, the last time any driver made the attempt. Why such a long drought? Busch’s Andretti Autosport teammate James Hinchcliffe can name a few reasons, including NASCAR pushing up the start time of the 600.
“I think [IndyCar] got a lot more competitive. It was harder to run well at both, and racing drivers don’t usually like just running,” Hinchcliffe said Friday before qualifying. “[For] a lot of the guys over [in NASCAR], it’s tough. It’s a big commitment. It’s a big time-drain for them to come over here and spend as much time here as we do. So I think it’s that a lot of the teams and sponsors over there are probably more reluctant to let their drivers do it rather than drivers not wanting to do it.”
A lot of the attention on Busch also has to do with his reputation for having anger issues both in and out of the car. NASCAR fans might be familiar with Busch’s tirades via team radio communications when he’s unhappy with his car, or his putdown of respected autoracing reporter Dr. Jerry Punch, which led to Busch’s dismissal from Penske Racing and subsequent stints with four teams in as many years.
Hinchcliffe, however, said he’s seen none of the bad side of the NASCAR veteran so far. “To hear some of his insights and thoughts has actually been very fascinating,” said Hinchcliffe. “Some of the terminology is a little different. We’re not quite sure what ‘milking the cow’ means, but that came up a couple of times in debrief. We don’t know if it’s good or bad, but at some point he was ‘milking the cow’ out there.”
Hinchcliffe calls Busch a great student who accepts that IndyCar isn’t his realm. “He’s knowledgeable enough about the physics of a racecar and racing that you can have a pretty up-to-speed conversation with him,” said the IndyCar driver.
Busch the student learned a lesson Monday in the final practice session before Carb Day on Friday. After completing his 56th lap, Busch lost control in Turn 2 and slammed into the outside wall. Bursts of flame shot out from the rear of the car before it came to a stop against the inside wall. Busch was quickly cleared to drive, and his team will now rely on a backup car for Sunday’s race.
“This created a lot of work for the Andretti guys. I feel bad for that,” Busch said in a press release. “As a rookie, there’s things you learn and put it up on the edge and get away with, and then there’s times when it will bite you.”