AUTO RACING: Kurt Busch to attempt grueling 1,100-mile IndyCar-Sprint Cup double
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It’s been 10 years since a driver last attempted running both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, a feat so grueling that only Tony Stewart has successfully completed all 1,100 miles.
Now Kurt Busch wants to give “the double” a try and he will have cars capable of winning both races.
He said Tuesday he will attempt to make the Indianapolis 500 in a fifth entry for Andretti Autosport. Should he make the May 25 race, Busch would then fly to Charlotte Motor Speedway to fulfill his full-time job with Stewart-Haas Racing — a team co-owned by Stewart — in NASCAR’s longest event of the year.
“I’m a fan of motorsports, a student of motorsports, and I view this as a challenge for myself,” Busch said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Memorial Day weekend, the central focus of all motorsports is Monaco, Indianapolis and Charlotte and this is a tremendous opportunity to be right in the middle of it.”
Only John Andretti, Stewart and Robby Gordon have attempted the “double,” and no driver has tried since Gordon in 2004.
“Welcome to the club!” Gordon posted on his Twitter account.
Stewart, Busch’s new co-owner at Stewart-Haas, is the only driver to complete the double. He did it in his second and final attempt, in 2001, when he finished sixth at Indy and third at Charlotte.
A native of the state of Indiana who grew up dreaming of winning the Indianapolis 500, Stewart long ago abandoned that goal and passed on an offer last year from Roger Penske to drive one of his cars in the 2013 Indianapolis 500. But Stewart has given Busch his blessing.
“It’s a great opportunity for Kurt and I fully support him,” Stewart said Tuesday.
“He’ll have a lot to learn in a short amount of time, but he has an overwhelming amount of driving talent on his side. He has a great car owner with Michael Andretti, who’s not only an owner, but he’s been a driver too.
“Michael has so much to offer Kurt in terms of knowledge and first-hand experience. It really seems like a natural pairing.”
Busch's attempt comes at a much different time than when Gordon and Stewart last tried to run both races. Social media didn’t exist a decade ago, and Busch plans to utilize every avenue possible to let fans follow along with his attempt.
On Tuesday, he even launched a website — www.kurtbuschdouble.com — that is expected to chronicle his efforts.
“I think this is something that is good for NASCAR, good for IndyCar, good for the fans to get behind and really feel like they are part of,” Busch said. “There was no social media, or the means for fans to get an in-depth look at what goes into the double when the others tried it. We think we’ve got an opportunity to make people feel like they are part of the experience with me.”
Busch first flirted with the idea last May when he completed the Indy 500 rookie orientation program with Andretti. He didn’t put a program together to run the 500, and said he’s second-guessed that decision at times.
“I took the conservative route and sometimes I kick myself because Carlos Munoz finished second as a rookie in that car last year,” Busch said. “So now I’m challenging myself to do something great in motorsports.”
Andretti will unveil the car and primary sponsor for Busch at a later date.
“I’m really excited to have Kurt come onboard for the Indy 500. He did a great job for us when he tested last year,” Andretti said. “He’s obviously a natural talent and we feel he is going to take to the Indy car quickly and have a competitive month with us.”
Busch, an advocate for The Armed Forces Foundation who is dedicating his effort to the men and women in the U.S. military, will bring at least two personal sponsors.
Cessna has signed on to help with his transportation between IndyCar and NASCAR, and Busch estimates it will require at least 20 hours of flight time shuttling him back and forth between both series. He’s also teamed with Basis, a wrist-based health tracker Busch is using to help with his training leading up to the double.
Busch has also taken up martial arts and joked he’s entered “a boot camp phase” of his personal training.
“You can get your body ready, and do all the cardio needed and follow the nutritional guidelines,” he said. “But the mental aspect of running 1,100 miles is like nothing you can prepare for. I think the martial arts can help with that.”
He said he’s spoken to Stewart, as well as former Penske teammates Helio Castroneves and Sam Hornish Jr., and Juan Pablo Montoya, who left NASCAR to drive for Penske in IndyCar this season, about his venture. Castroneves, Hornish and Montoya are all former Indy 500 winners.
“All of them have given me great support and told me, ‘You can do this,’” Busch said.
Indeed, three-time winner Castroneves welcomed Busch to the field: “Congrats on the #indy500, see u there!!” he tweeted.
Busch will not participate in an IndyCar race before the Indy 500, but president of competition Derrick Walker said last month the series would try to accommodate him with track time much the same way it has Montoya, who has received additional testing time in his preparation for the season.
“To add a driver with the résumé of Kurt Busch to the Indianapolis 500 field is a huge gain for IndyCar,” Walker said. “We want to see the best 33 drivers put their skills to the test on the biggest stage in motorsports, regardless of which series they come from. To attempt ‘the double’ is a tremendous challenge, and we’re looking forward to watching Kurt accomplish the feat.”
Busch's path to the Indy 500 will begin in earnest after the May 10 Sprint Cup race at Kansas. He’s expected to spend a week testing Andretti’s Honda, and make at least 10 trips between Indy and Charlotte as he participates in NASCAR’s All-Star race and attempts to qualify for the 500, race in the 500 and the 600.
He said he’s worked out several scheduling issues with NASCAR and has permission from Charlotte Motor Speedway to helicopter onto the frontstretch of the track to speed up his arrival for the second race. Busch won the Coca-Cola 600 — which is a full 100 miles longer than any other race on the NACAR schedule — in 2010.
“As a past Coca-Cola 600 champion, Kurt Busch knows what a test of endurance 600 miles can be. To race 1,100 is nearly impossible,” said Charlotte Motor Speedway president Marcus Smith. “To even attempt this takes a lot of guts. Fans will appreciate this effort, and I know they’ll be as excited as I will, watching the clock to see if he can make it to Charlotte in time for our green flag.”
Charlotte officials said they’ll track Busch’s journey from Indianapolis on their massive big screen video board in the infield of the speedway so fans can follow and anticipate his arrival. But if he wins the 500, Busch knows he’ll be late to Charlotte — if he makes it all.
However, NASCAR’s new Chase for the Sprint Cup championship format means all Busch has to do this year is win a race to earn a spot in the 16-driver Chase, and he can afford to miss the start of the 600 and not jeopardize his regular job.
“As long as we attempt to qualify for every race, we are eligible for the Chase under the new rules,” Busch said. “It’s like you are in New York City, on Broadway, and you look up at all the bright lights — they are clearly pointing to this being the right time to do this. The green light is on.”