Kurt Busch finalizes deal for 500-600 double
March 04, 2014, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
Team owner Tony Stewart to provide advice from one NASCAR champion to another
Kurt Busch has always sought to challenge himself when it comes to motorsports, and toward that end the 2004 champion of NASCAR's premier series has found the ultimate test -- racing in two of the sport's biggest events on the same day.
Busch announced Tuesday that he has signed a deal to compete in the Indianapolis 500, meaning that the Stewart-Haas Racing driver will become the fourth person to tackle the Memorial Day weekend double when he races both at Indy and in the Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 25.
"To me, I've always just tried to challenge myself in motorsports, and to be a student of all kind of cars -- dirt tracks, road courses, superspeedways, short track, open wheel, and of course, our stock cars," Busch told NASCAR.com. "That's my love, my passion, and it's in my blood. And it's a chance to challenge myself, to do something physically and mentally as a driver, and show how tough NASCAR drivers are."
Busch has been working toward the Memorial Day double ever since shaking down an Andretti Autosport IndyCar car in a rookie test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in early May of 2013. While he was unable to pull a deal together for that year, watching IndyCar rookie Carlos Munoz finish second in the Indy 500 only whetted his appetite for the attempt.
Busch said he has the full support of Stewart-Haas co-owners Gene Haas and Tony Stewart, the latter of whom has attempted the double twice himself. Busch said his Indy 500 entry would be fielded by Andretti Autosport, owned by Michael Andretti, and that the team is close on a sponsor deal although nothing has yet been signed. But Busch is committed to both races regardless.
"We have made a verbal commitment and handshake to each other to do this no matter what," he said. "So he's got a sponsor, he's pushed a contract across the table to me, I've signed it, and we're going to do this one way or another."
Among the rarest of motorsports feats, the double has been done previously by just three drivers since the Indy and Charlotte races have been on the same day -- John Andretti, Robby Gordon, and Stewart. John Andretti was the first in 1994, finishing 10th at Indy and 36th after an engine failure in Charlotte. Gordon attempted it five times, with a few of those thwarted by weather, his best effort coming in 2002 when he placed eighth in Indy and 16th at Charlotte.
It was Stewart, though, who set the standard. In 1999 the former IndyCar and future Sprint Cup champion scored top-10 finishes in both races, placing ninth at Indianapolis and fourth in Charlotte. In 2001 he became the first driver to complete all 1,100 miles of both events, finishing sixth at Indy and third in the Coca-Cola 600 to establish the benchmark for the attempt.
"That's going to be tough to achieve with my lack of Indy experience," Busch admitted. "But to have his support -- he said he wanted to go and watch the beginning of the 500 with me. It's an amazing feeling to have a guy like Tony Stewart there. A.J. Foyt, he gave me a thumbs-up at the Daytona 500, thinking that I might be doing this. So it's really nice to have the support on the open-wheel side."
The double was made more realistic in 2011, when the start time for the Indianapolis 500 was moved back to noon Eastern, once again opening an adequate travel window between the two events. Busch is absolutely committed to running the Coca-Cola 600. Under current rules, taking part in qualifying for the 600 would allow him to stay in the running for a Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup berth. If necessary, Mark Martin would serve as a relief driver.
Busch said he plans to test twice in the open-wheel car prior to the Indy 500, although those details are still being worked out. He has a head start on the logistics, enlisting Cessna aircraft and Bell helicopters as air carriers to get him back and forth between the two cities for practices and qualifying sessions. Charlotte Motor Speedway, he said, has given him the OK to land his helicopter in the grass infield area inside the tri-oval prior to the Coca-Cola 600.
"We've definitely ironed out the schedule," Busch said. "There are a couple of conflicts, more on (NASCAR Sprint) All-Star Race weekend for Cup. That’s where Tony Stewart comes into play, being an owner who's given his solid blessing to go and do this, and there would be a small sacrifice on the Cup car in a practice session. The only hurdle that I haven’t cleared that I'm aware of is the drivers' meeting for the All-Star Race. I'm going to miss it if I'm attempting to qualify for the Indy 500 in the fastest group, and the All-Star Race, it would kind of stink to start in the back of that race. We'll see how it plays out."
In addition to getting his owner’s blessing, Busch plans to pepper Stewart with questions on details of the feat. The former IndyCar champion and three-time NASCAR premier series champ has not attempted the double since his second and most successful try in 2001. He dealt with exhaustion after his first attempt in 1999 and leg cramps during his second two years later, underlining the physical demands of the venture.
"I've got videos of the last two years of the 500, and I want to get together with Tony and just watch tape and ask him as many questions as I can to put my mind at ease," Busch said. "And then to be prepared, as far as nutrition, as far as core strength, the mental aspect of it. We're going to have a ton of buddies, an entourage, wanting to go to this event, and we have to set them up so they're not a burden for me to stay focused with what I have to do to stay focused on the cars."
Busch has never been shy of sliding behind the wheel of anything with an engine -- in addition to his IndyCar rookie test, he's made laps in an Australian V8 Supercar at Circuit of the Americas, twice raced sports cars in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, even roared down a quarter-mile in a Pro Stock dragster during a professional event on a NASCAR off-weekend. Competing in the Coca-Cola 600 and the Indianapolis 500 on the same day has always loomed as the ultimate test, and at last Busch will get his chance.
"The stars aligned," he said. "It all made sense, and we're going to make this happen."
Busch plans to use the effort to help raise awareness for the Armed Forces Foundation, the group headed by his girlfriend Patricia Driscoll, using Memorial Day weekend to shed light on issues like post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) and the high suicide rates among veterans.
"And it's even extra special for me that this is happening on Memorial Day weekend," Busch said. "I really want to dedicate this to all the men and women who defend our freedom."
Busch is an active advocate of the Armed Forces Foundation (AFF), recently merging his own foundation with AFF, and donating $100,000 to the organization through AFF's "Kurt Busch Project."
"We're constantly working to drive awareness to PTSD and its consequences," said Driscoll, who is president and executive board member of AFF. "Every 65 minutes, a veteran commits suicide. They need to know that help is out there. Hopefully, something as high profile as this can really help get the message to those who need it the most."
If fans want to support the Armed Forces Foundation, they can text AFF to 50555 to donate $10, or visit www.armedforcesfoundation.org.