Kurt Busch passes Indy rookie test with flying colors
BY Rick Minter
Kurt Busch had a busy schedule last week. Early in the week he spent time with reporters discussing the 10th anniversary of his Darlington finish with Ricky Craven, in which he lost the victory by .002 seconds in what many regard as one of the most thrilling finishes in Sprint Cup history.
Then on Thursday, he was driving an Indy car at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where he ran a lap at 218.21 miles per hour, passing his rookie test on that circuit and paving the way for a future attempt at running the Indianapolis 500.
On Friday, he was back at Darlington, where he turned a lap at a track record 181.918 mph to win the pole for the Southern 500. In the race, he led 69 laps in the early going, but faded to 14th at the finish.
“We let it slip away, and that’s disappointing,” Busch said. “But we won the pole, led laps, ran up front for a good portion of the race and came away with a respectable finish.”
Overall, it was quite a week.
“It’s been an amazing ride,” Busch said. “To have [Michael] Andretti line up a deal to where you can drive his Indy car in the month of May and post some speeds that are worthy of making the show. I had to pinch myself.
“That was a kid-in-the-candy-store feel. Then showing up [at Darlington], it’s full-on race mode. I knew I had three hours to get this No. 78 Furniture Row car dialed into Darlington, and to put it on the pole — that is a great surprise, but it’s also showing the strength of the team.”
At Indianapolis, Busch drove the No. 1 Dallara Chevrolet that Ryan Hunter-Reay will drive in the Indianapolis 500. As a rookie, he had to pick up speed in phases: 10 laps at 200-205 mph, 15 laps at 205-209 mph and 15 laps at 210-plus mph.
Andretti told reporters that he was not surprised that Busch passed his rookie test with flying colors.
“He just drove exactly the way we wanted him to do it,” Andretti said. “He gave great feedback, right on pace, built up to nice and steady. He didn’t do anything stupid, which we knew he wouldn’t. It was a really good day.”
Busch has no plans to run the 500 this year, but he could try it next year. If he does, he’ll join other NASCAR drivers who have raced at Indianapolis.
Donnie Allison ran the 500 twice. In 1970, he finished fourth and won Rookie of the Year honors. The next year, he finished sixth. Cale Yarborough made four Indy 500 starts from 1966 to 1972, with a best finish of 10th in his final run. Bobby Allison ran the 500 two times, with a best finish of 25th in 1975, and LeeRoy Yarbrough ran three 500s, with a best finish of 19th in 1970.
Busch said he’s thinking about running both the 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte next year, a double effort that Tony Stewart, John Andretti and Robby Gordon have done in the past.
“It could be the beginning of a 13-month journey to get prepared for the double,” Busch said. “I need to get more comfortable in the Indy car. I think the proper thing is to go out and experience this car at another oval track and get into a race.”
Even if he doesn’t attempt the 500, Busch had added another form of motorsports to his racing resume.
He drove an Australian V8 Supercar at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, recently. He’s also raced sports cars in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and driven Pro Stock cars in the 2011 NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla.