Just two weeks from attempting to win the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in the same day, Kurt Busch says the magnitude of that effort is finally beginning to hit home.
“The excitement is building up,” admitted the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. “It’s been great all this month. I have a chance to win (at Indy) with an Andretti Autosport car and I’ve got a chance to win the Coke 600 with a Stewart-Haas car.”
Busch said that while the logistics involved with practicing, qualifying and racing in both events has been daunting, the schedules for the two events have meshed well.
“We have a pretty straightforward schedule on the IndyCar side,” he revealed. “It’s very different than our scheduled practices in stock car land. (At Indy), the track is hot every day from 12:00 to 6:00 p.m. So I’m on call every day from 12 to 6 pm. Andretti Autosport has their sequence of when we’re going to go out on the track, and that’s been given to me, (so) we have our practice sessions planned out already.
“It’s neat to know where we’ll be and what needs to be done on both sides of the garage area. But Mother Nature is ultimately in change. She is dishing out a bit more chance of rain early in the week, and then it’s cool with very consistent conditions Friday and Saturday of next week.”
He said his Indy effort will begin “on Thursday to Friday of next week. We’re going to go through our paces next week and most of the practice runs are in race trim for the Indy 500.” He said he hopes to be fast from the outset, avoiding “Bump Day” worries by remaining in the top half of the practice field.
“We don’t want to be part of Bump Day; in that lower half, or lower third of the field. It is (all about) following Andretti Autosport’s lead, even if we had a threat of having to qualify in. Andretti Autosport has done a tremendous job in allowing me to roll as a rookie, feel the comfort level each time we go out in the car and not overstep anything that’s asked (of) me as a newbie.
“I’ll be leaning on every bit of experience from them, but it would be nice not to have to worry about getting bumped out.”
Busch said he was pleasantly surprised by “the open arms and the feel in the paddock of the IndyCar guys, team owners, sponsors and the drivers. It’s been an amazing welcome to (their) garage area.”
While much attention has been paid to his IndyCar shakedown runs, Busch is cognizant that the Indianapolis 500 is less than half of the total challenge he’ll face.
“At the end of the day, there still is a… 600-mile event where I’ll be driving the Haas-Automation Chevy,” he said. “They’re rooting me on (at Indy), but I still have my job to do when I show up (in Charlotte). There still has to be a lot of focus around the stock car side of this.”
Busch said he has spoken with Stewart Haas Racing co-owner Tony Stewart – himself a former IRL champion – in an attempt to learn everything he can in advance of the 500.
“He said the IndyCars have less horsepower,” said Busch. “They have less pick-up, acceleration -- and even though the cars weigh 1500 pounds -- don’t accelerate like stock cars do. So you have to look ahead, you have to anticipate (and) you have to digest what’s happening in front of you when guys get side-by-side.”
While winning both races is obviously his goal, Busch said finishing all 1,100 mile will make a successful day, in his mind.
“I’d love to finish in the top half of the field at Indy,” he said. “I’d love to stay out of trouble all day and just experience it all. But once this week gets further down the road -- with the comfort level I will gain -- I’ll want more. But right now, it’s a matter of just finishing both races. Eleven hundred miles is tough to do.”
Busch has ramped-up his already demanding physical training regimen in anticipation of the Indy/Charlotte double, focusing on upper-body strength.
“My hands have been very sore after each of the practice sessions, just from the death grip on the wheel,” he laughed. “I need to relax more and let the car come to me, instead of me forcing the car. It’s just getting comfortable with the driver controls and knowing where everything is around me.
“I’ve bulked up a little bit just with muscle mass. I’ve gained about three pounds. It’s been a slight difference.”