|Busch (L) and Andretti (C) team up for Indy|
Until recently, Kurt Busch never believed his lifelong dream of competing in the Indianapolis 500 was attainable.
Today, Busch took a major step toward achieving that goal
The 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion confirmed that he will join Andretti Autosport for the 98th Running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 25, attempting to become just the fourth driver to complete the “Indy-Charlotte Double” by also competing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway the same day.
Busch, who is dedicating the effort to U.S. military personnel serving around the world, called the opportunity "a dream come true.
"My dad 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," said Busch today. "It's just the different opportunities that have come up in motorsports (that have led me) to this biggest moment, outside of stock cars.
Busch said the effort began as a discussion over dinner with his agent, John Caponigro, and eventually grew into the opportunity to drive in the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport.
"I went to watch the '500' with Roger Penske when I first signed a contract with him to drive stock cars,” he recalled. “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. 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 One."
Busch tested an Andretti Autosport car at IMS last May, in between Sprint Cup Series races.
|Busch will attempt the Double|
"That was a `kid in a candy store’ moment, experiencing an open-wheel car at 220 mph," Busch said. "You can definitely get a different appreciation for the track and its heritage with an open-wheel car versus a stock car. It got my mind going and my juices flowing. The adrenaline and excitement was there, but last year just didn't seem like the right timing. Now, after 11 months of chewing the fat and working on details, I'm more excited than ever to do this."
Indianapolis 500 qualifications are scheduled for May 17-18, with final practice on Carburetion Day, May 23. Busch said a testing plan interspersed with his NASCAR schedule with Stewart Haas Racing 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 (and) 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 be able to anticipate what's next and have things checked off the list so I’m 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 were held on separate days, allowing drivers to race in both events. Drivers who raced in both races the same year include:
1967: 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: Jerry Grant becomes the second driver to compete in both races in the same year, finishing 12th at Charlotte and 23rd at Indy.
1969: NASCAR driver Lee Roy Yarbrough wins the race at Charlotte, and finishes 23rd at Indy.
1970: 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 that season, finishing 29th at Charlotte and 19th at Indy.
1971: Donnie Allison finished sixth at Indy, and second at Charlotte.
1979: NASCAR regular Neil Bonnett the Indy 500, but suffered a blown engine on the morning of pole qualifying. The following weekend, rain complicated his schedule, and he elected to withdraw from Indy.