(photo courtesy IndyCar)
A blown engine foiled Kurt Busch’s bid to complete 1,100 miles Sunday in the Indy-Charlotte double, but the NASCAR champion said what occurred in the Coca-Cola 600 wouldn’t dampen his stellar performance and sixth-place finish in his inaugural Indianapolis 500.
“Today is a memory I’ll have forever,” said Busch, who completed 271 laps in the Coca-Cola 600 for a total of 906 miles. “It was a challenge I put forth for myself. I enjoyed it. I soaked it all in up North. There was a grand stage to stand on and represent NASCAR.”
Team owner Rick Hendrick, who celebrated his 11th Coca-Cola 600 victory Sunday, said he thought Busch’s accomplishment at Indianapolis “speaks highly of the talent” in the NASCAR garage.
“I think it’s nice to see the fans recognize him for what he has done,” Hendrick said. “I think it was outstanding.”
Jimmie Johnson, who claimed his seventh CMS victory and fourth Coca-Cola 600 win, said Busch made everyone in the garage proud of him.
Crew chief Chad Knaus called Busch’s Indianapolis 500 debut “pretty spectacular” and noted the thing that impressed him was Busch’s ability to communicate with the Andretti Autosport crew.
“To be able to go and put himself in that world, begin to try to communicate with those guys that have acompletely different vocabulary than what we do on the Cup side, it’s spectacular to go through that,” Knaus said. “(It) showed a lot of maturity on his part; a lot of desire. I thought that was pretty awesome.”
NASCAR’s 2004 Cup champion said he didn’t think he had anything for the top-five finishers in the Indy 500, but he was still “in awe” of how well he ran at Indy.
“I’d love to do it again,” Busch said about the double-duty. “At the same time, you’ve got to do it with quality teams. The teams really can make the difference in all of this.”
Busch’s accomplishment made him the fourth NASCAR driver to execute the Indy-Charlotte double. John Andretti was the first in 1994 and then came Robby Gordon in 1997. Tony Stewart performed the double in 1999 and 2001. Stewart is the only driver to complete the 1,100 miles, doing so both years. He finished ninth at Indy and fourth at Charlotte in 1999, and sixth at Indy and third at Charlotte in 2001.
Busch’s sixth-place finish at Indy made him the top rookie and the second fulltime NASCAR driver to earn that honor. Donnie Allison was named the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year in 1970 when he finished fourth. He placed sixth in the Indy 500 the following year.
Tim Richmond was a full-time Indy Car driver when he claimed rookie honors in the 1980 Indianapolis 500. He didn’t make his NASCAR debut until July 1980 at Pocono.
Other NASCAR drivers who have competed in the Indianapolis 500 are Bobby Allison (’73 and ’75), Cale Yarborough (’66-67, ’71-72) and LeeRoy Yarbrough (’67, ’69-70).
Also of great interest is the fact that the The Wood Brothers also introduced the fast pit stops to the May classic when the Stuart, Va.-based team pitted winner Jim Clark in the 1965 Indianapolis 500. During those decades, the Coca-Cola 600 and the Indianapolis 500 weren’t held on the same day. The Indianapolis race was always held on May 30, which was Memorial Day. The two events began sharing the same race day when the federal government declared the last Monday in May Memorial Day, thus moving both races to Memorial Day weekend.
Busch began preparing for the 1,100-mile marathon six months ago, focusing on core and upper body strength. He added the full nutrition portion of the program at the beginning of the week with low carbs, maintaining protein. He began loading up on carbs Friday night.
On Sunday, Busch landed at Charlotte Motor Speedway at 4:53 p.m., more than an hour before the scheduled start of the Coca-Cola 600, and he didn’t appear tired. He participated in driver introductions, but had to go to the rear of the field at the race’s beginning because he missed the drivers meeting.
In the Coca-Cola 600’s first 10 laps, Busch gain 11 positions. By lap 25 in the 400-lap race, he had reached 29th. After the first round of green-flag stops he was in 26th, but a lap down. Busch was among several drivers who took the wave around during the first caution period that began on lap 109. When the race restarted, Busch was 19th, the last car on the lead lap.
By the end of the second caution period on lap 154, Busch had moved into 16th. When the race restarted following the third caution period he had cracked the top 15. Busch got as high as 13th, received the free pass twice and was assessed a penalty for too many men over the pit wall before the engine expired in his Chevrolet.
“It acted like it swallowed three cylinders all at once,” Busch said after climbing from his car in the CMS garage. “It almost symbolizes how tough it’s been on the Haas Automation team.”
To be 35 years old, and to try to accomplish this huge endurance feat says a lot about the commitment, the character, and the abilities of one Kurt Busch. The entire racing world was watching, and dare I say, rooting for KuBu to succeed on Sunday!
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!