Opening Day of practice for the 98th Indianapolis 500 was identified as the proper time for Kurt Busch’s to play in traffic.
Busch had piled up more than 250 miles in a pair of orientation sessions in the Honda-powered No. 26 car, but most of those laps were solo for the driver who will attempt to compete in both the Indy 500 and the stock car race in Concord, N.C., on May 25.
“The Andretti Autosport guys said, ‘It's time to ramp up where we are with your level,’ and that's to get into some dirty air and feel the car behind other cars,” said Busch, who ran in a pack with teammates late in the session on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.
“Our car definitely changed. The attitude and dirty air, it's exciting because every corner is different. And you have to remember where each of those moments from the lap before; and then continue to gain more information and digest what just happened in the next lap.
“And things are moving quickly at 220 mph. So I know there's going to be more dirty air and there's going to be tougher conditions, and then as we advance through the week just kind of check off the list and get further into more detail with the team.”
Of his 31 total laps, Busch had a fastest of 220.352 mph (40.8437 seconds), which was 12th on the speed chart. Will Power, driving the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car, was fastest at 223.057 mph. Both drivers’ fastest laps had an element of a tow, which was noticeable to Busch.
“Best way to explain it is it's time 10 the amount of draft that you feel versus a stock car, which means I can easily catch the guy in front of me,” he said. “The flipside to that is these cars have less horsepower, so if you ease off the gas, it really kills your momentum. So it's almost a balance of running it like a Nationwide (car) horsepower, but then the dirty air is times 10 on how quickly you can catch a guy if you have a run on him.
“So a lot to digest and then you have less horsepower to cover up any of your mistakes.”
Busch’s lessons continue this week with more laps before heading to Charlotte Motor Speedway for his primary job. He’ll shuttle between North Carolina and Indianapolis on May 17 – participating in the first round of Indy 500 qualifications and competing in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star race.
“It's a unique opportunity to race with (team owner Michael) Andretti, to have him there and talking with Mario this morning,” he said. “It's not like I'm putting my career or my credentials on the line to prove anything. This is a moment to check off something on the bucket list, but also to challenge myself to see where I can end up in this open-wheel rank at one of the most difficult races in the world.”