"That was wild."
-- Kurt Busch, veteran of more than 500 NASCAR (Cup, Nationwide, truck) races after his first stint in an IZOD IndyCar Series car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Busch breezed through the three speed phases of the Indianapolis 500 Rookie Orientation Program that all drivers must complete during an extended session in the Chevrolet-powered No. 1 DHL Andretti Autosport car that reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay will drive in practice starting May 11 for the Indy 500 on May 26.
He returned the car to pit lane with nary a smudge as his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series crew, which flew in for the event, checked out the Dallara chassis (more than half the weight of a Cup car and about 50 mph quicker around the 2.5-mile oval).
Click it: Video of Busch's day at the Speedway
Busch has made 12 stock car starts at the Brickyard, with a best finish of fifth in 2001, but nothing compared to this ride. He posted an official top lap speed of 218.210 mph on 83 laps in the rookie program that consists of 10 laps at 200-205 mph, 15 laps at 205-209 mph and 15 laps at 210-plus mph on the 2.5-mile oval. In addition, INDYCAR officials monitor car control, placement and a consistent driving pattern.
"I do notice when I'm in the (Indy) car that you just have less time to look at things," said Busch, the 2004 Sprint Cup Series champion. "Halfway through that second session we did, that's when things started to slow down (mentally). So you just have to graduate with the car and with the comfort level. It will help me respect the track more for an IndyCar. It was a treat that couldn't be equaled.
"To reach 218 on your first day is an achievement, but it's not close to what you need to race. The biggest thing I see when I watch the Indianapolis 500 is how far ahead you have to anticipate. When you are the only car out there, it's fine. But when you throw other cars out there, there's no way to simulate that."
Announcement of the session gave rise to Busch potentially doing "the double" in 2014 -- competing in the Indianapolis 500 and Cup race the same day -- and he is eager to be the fourth to attempt it. By passing the formal rookie test, Busch is eligible to participate in practice and qualifying for "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing" and is a licensed INDYCAR driver.
"There are faster planes and faster helicopters these days," he said of the midday and early evening starts of the races in Indianapolis and Concord, N.C. "If we could get the times sorted out, you would have more interest in sponsors and drivers and owners wanting to do the double. That's what fans want to see.
"There's the mental and physical side of it and then the business side of it," Busch said. "It could be a project. I think the proper thing is to go out and experience this car at another oval track and get into a race and experience what the buffeting is and the movement of the car when all the downforce changes."
Could that be Oct. 19 in the IZOD IndyCar Series season finale on the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway given Busch's status in the stock car series' championship "chase"? Michael Andretti just smiled.
Andretti and IZOD IndyCar Series driver James Hinchcliffe, who has won two of the four races this season, were on pit lane to offer pointers.
"He came into it with a really open mind and was really receptive to the feedback we were giving him," Hinchcliffe said. "The guy's a natural. He jumped in, was comfortable right away, was eager to keep improving."