CONCORD – While Kurt Busch’s bid to complete “The Double” might have failed, it won’t stop the former Sprint Cup champion from making another run at history.
“I would love to do it again,” Busch said Sunday night.
Busch was in an upbeat mood as he stood next to his broken down, still simmering No. 41 Chevy outside of his hauler. An engine failure on lap 271 of the 400-lap race ended Busch’s night early at the Coca-Cola 600.
Busch completed more than 906 miles in his quest to join Tony Stewart as the only other driver to complete Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 in the same day.
“I was hoping to do 1,100 miles (Sunday),” Busch said. “But I can’t let what happened here dampen the mood on what happened up in Indianapolis.”
Busch finished sixth in his first Indianapolis 500, but his Sprint Cup troubles this year continued to haunt him. He entered the night 28th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings, and Sunday was the fifth race he didn’t finish.
“We just had a monkey on our back down here in running NASCAR this year,” Busch said. “That kind of motor failure symbolizes some of the struggles we’ve had.”
Still, he refused to let it bring him down.
“All in all, I’m very satisfied,” Busch said. “I gave it my all. I trained very hard. I had a lot of people helping out. Thanks to Gene Haas, Tony Stewart, Michael Andretti and this whole group. Everyone worked hard on both sides. ... I’m still really in awe of how well we ran at Indy,”
Busch said his feet and hands were sore, but other than that he felt well and was planning to have a good night’s sleep and savor what was a long but fun day.
“(Sunday) is a memory I’ll have forever,” Busch said. “Overall, I can stand here with a smile knowing I gave it my all for six months trying to get to this point.”
The NASCAR veteran was trying to become the second driver to complete the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in a single day – a grueling, 1,100-mile slog that included an airplane ride from Indiana to North Carolina.
He successfully completed the Indianapolis 500 earlier Sunday, then darted to the second race. The frenetic schedule didn’t faze him. He even hinted it might not be his only shot at the back-to-back races.
“The Double” has been attempted by just three drivers, the last being Robby Gordon in 2004. Only Stewart, in 2001, successfully completed the two races, finishing sixth at Indy and third at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The first leg of Busch’s racing doubleheader was a total smash, as the NASCAR champion-turned-Indy rookie made it look easy after starting 12th at the Brickyard.
Busch stepped out of the IndyCar, raised his arms in triumph, and hugged his girlfriend. His crew members squeezed their way toward him down the slender Indianapolis Motor Speedway pit road for fist bumps and well wishes.
His face red, throat dry, and hair slicked in sweat, Busch tossed his helmet in the No. 26.
“It was an incredible journey to sniff the lead of the Indy 500,” Busch said.
With 500 miles down and 600 ahead, he was still dressed in his firesuit when he took a seat in the back of an Indiana state trooper’s car and pulled out of the garage at 3:30 p.m.
Once in the air on the Cessna Citation X that took him to Concord Regional Airport, his girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll, tweeted a photo of Busch and her 9-year-old son, Houston, asleep on the plane. Busch landed at about 4:50 p.m., after a 47-minute ride.
Busch changed into his NASCAR firesuit on the trip, and had his blood pressure checked and intravenous fluids administered by the doctor and nurse aboard the Cessna. Before boarding the helicopter that took him to Charlotte Motor Speedway, he drank 12 ounces of water and 20 ounces of other liquids – including beet juice. He ate a high-potassium and high-protein bar, a box of raisins and a little beef jerky.
“It went like a dream,” said Dr. Scott McNair, who traveled with Busch. “Everything went exactly the way we hoped. He looks great, refreshed and ready for 600 miles.”
Busch missed the mandatory NASCAR driver’s meeting and started in the back of the field for the Coca-Cola 600 after he qualified 28th in the series’ longest race of the season. He didn’t care after he overachieved at Indy.
“I wasn’t a top-five driver,” Busch said to one member of his team. “The car was.”
With the eyes of the racing world on him, Busch was cool, confident and well-rested for the feat, getting about nine hours of sleep the night before race day.
Fans shouted encouragement at Busch as he rode a golf cart through Gasoline Alley, one yelling: “Good luck today, Kurt, times two!” Busch spent time with his parents and Driscoll and her son, and received prerace encouragement from racing heavyweights like car owner Chip Ganassi and rapper and actor Ice-T.
Even though the attempt wasn’t promoted heavily by IndyCar or NASCAR – the races air on different networks and multiple sponsors were involved, clouding the possibilities – Busch’s debut in Indianapolis brought some buzz to the “Greatest Spectacle In Racing,” the crown jewel of the IndyCar Series and one of the most prestigious races in the world.
His fellow NASCAR drivers were keeping track of his progress.
“He’s representing the entire sport,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “Whether he knows it or not, he’s got a lot of people, drivers, crew and just about everyone on the infield pulling for him to do well because he is representing all of us.”
Stewart tweeted, “Could not be more proud of my teammate (at)KurtBusch. 6th at Indy 500. Amazing job bud!”
In Indianapolis, team owner Michael Andretti made a quick stop by the car for a huge hug on his way to finding winner Ryan Hunter-Reay.
“Nice drive,” Andretti said. “Rookie of the year, buddy.”
Busch’s whirlwind schedule ahead of race day included a rigorous training regimen and several flights between the two racetracks to get himself ready for motorsports’ version of climbing Mount Everest. The 35-year-old Busch trained in Maryland like a boot camp cadet to whip his body into top shape to handle the heat, travel and weariness that accompanied the attempt. He also fine-tuned his diet.
A big part of the challenge for Busch was getting used to the Indy car.
At 1,500 pounds, the cars are much lighter and have less horsepower than the 3,500-pound stock cars Busch drives in NASCAR. IndyCar drivers have to anticipate the next move faster, especially when cars race side-by-side. The contact so familiar among cars in a NASCAR race is out of the question in IndyCar, where the cars are more susceptible to high-flying flips and the open cockpits leave drivers exposed to flying debris.
Busch needed about 70 laps to find his comfort level inside the snug cockpit. Once he did, Busch was able to zip his way out of the high teens from the first half of the race and into the top 10.
About 5 minutes after the race, Busch had a flicker of peace all alone on a golf cart outside the Andretti garage.
“Where am I supposed to be?” Busch asked, as he toweled off his face.