Competing in the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race hasn’t been a goal until recently, Kurt Busch acknowledges, primarily because he never envisioned it was attainable.
Today, Busch is looking forward to soaking in the Memorial Day weekend pre-race pageantry and solemnity as he prepares to drive the sleek and powerful No. 26 Andretti Autosport-prepared Honda race car for 500 grueling miles in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
The 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion will join the Andretti Autosport driver lineup for the 98th Running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 25. He’ll also seek to become the fourth driver to “do the double” by competing in the Coca-Cola 600 in Concord, N.C.
The green flag for the Indianapolis 500 is scheduled for just after noon (ET), while the 300-lap stock car race 430 miles away is scheduled for 6 p.m.
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"To add a driver with the résumé of Kurt Busch to the Indianapolis 500 field is a huge gain for INDYCAR,” said Derrick Walker, INDYCAR President of Competition and Operations. "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 this May."
Busch, 35, who is dedicating the effort to U.S. military personnel serving around the world, said the opportunity “is a dream come true.”
“My dad, a Mac Tools distributor, and I would go to car shows and see Indy cars and he’d say, ‘This is about as close as you’ll ever get to one of these things’ because it was so far removed from what we could dream as a small blue-collar family from Las Vegas,” Busch said. “It’s just the different opportunities that have come up in motorsports (that have led me) to this biggest moment outside of stock cars.
“It was a talk over dinner (with his agent, John Caponigro) one night on ‘what if?’ and now it’s all becoming a reality for me to drive in the Indy 500 with Andretti.
“I went once to watch the ‘500’ with Roger Penske when I first signed a contract with him to drive stock cars. To feel it, to experience it, I’m going to actually revert back to that to try to block out some of the emotional excitement of what it means to be part of the ‘500.’ To drive in it this year, nothing is going to compare, nothing can prepare or get me ready when they drop that green flag and 33 of us rush into Turn 1.”
Busch tested an Andretti Autosport car at the Speedway last May – his second time in an Indy car – between Sprint Cup Series races. He finished 14th in the Brickyard 400 on the 2.5-mile oval three months later.
“That was a whole kid in a candy store moment of experiencing an open-wheel car at 220 mph,” he said. “You can definitely get a different appreciation for the track and its heritage with an open-wheel car versus a stock car that I’ve done the last 15 years there. It got my mind going and my juices flowing on ‘I want to do this.’ The adrenaline and excitement was there, but last year just didn’t seem like the right timing. Now 11 months of chewing on the fat and working on the details, I’m more excited than ever to do this.”
Qualifications are May 17-18, with final practice on Carburetion Day May 23. Busch said a testing plan interspersed in the NASCAR schedule to “get up to speed” with teammates Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Carlos Munoz is being drafted.
“It’s going to be a steady progression that I have to follow Andretti Autosport’s lead,” he said. “We have a full-blown test program to be the best-prepared we can for the Month of May. I will be a rookie, but I bring a lot of oval experience in and we’ll see how we can blend that in.
“It’s about absorbing as much as I can and chewing on it the right way. Sam Hornish Jr., who was a teammate of mine at Penske Racing, I mentored him as much as I could on the stock car side. Don’t think I’m not going to call him and try to get that favor back.”
The last driver to attempt the double was Robby Gordon in 2004. Gordon, who in 2002 and ’03 raced in both events, started the ’04 Indy 500 but left at the first red flag (rain) for North Carolina. Jaques Lazier finished the race for Gordon. John Andretti (1994) and Tony Stewart (1999 and 2001) also raced in both events. Stewart is the only driver to complete all 1,100 miles – finishing sixth at Indianapolis and third at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“I want to pop quiz everyone who’s done (the double) to learn as much as I can to just be able to anticipate what’s next and have things checked off your list so that you’re mentally prepared,” Busch said. “I have to thank Stewart Haas Racing for giving me the chance to fulfill this dream, to challenge myself in motorsports and to do something special in this day and age.”
From 1961 to 1973, the Indy 500 and World 600 -- as the Coca-Cola 600 -- was formerly known were held on separate days, allowing drivers to attempt to race in both events.
1967: The World 600 is held on Sunday, May 28, and the Indy 500 is scheduled for Tuesday, May 30. Cale Yarborough becomes the first driver to compete in both races in the same year. He finished 41st at Charlotte and 17th at Indy.
1968: The World 600 is held on Sunday, May 26, and the Indy 500 is held Thursday, May 30. Jerry Grant becomes the second driver to compete in both races in the same year. He finished 12th at Charlotte and 23rd at Indy.
1969: The World 600 is held on Sunday, May 25, and the Indy 500 is held Friday, May 30. NASCAR driver Lee Roy Yarbrough won the race at Charlotte, and at Indy, he finished 23rd.
1970: The World 600 is held on Sunday, May 24, and the Indy 500 is held Saturday, May 30. NASCAR driver Donnie Allison won the race at Charlotte, and finished fourth at Indy. To date, it is the best combined performance for both races. Lee Roy Yarbrough also competed in both events. He finished 29th at Charlotte and 19th at Indy.
1971: Memorial Day is moved to Monday, and the Indy 500 is held Saturday, May 29. The World 600 is held the next day. NASCAR driver Donnie Allison finished sixth at Indy on Saturday, and finished second at the race at Charlotte.
1979: NASCAR regular Neil Bonnett entered at Indy looking to qualify. He was up to speed, however, he suffered a blown engine on the morning of pole qualifying. The following weekend, rain complicated his schedule, and he decided to withdraw from Indy.