NASCAR's Kurt Busch to compete in 2014 Indy 500
4 March 2014
NASCAR star Kurt Busch has announced that he will attempt to 'do the double' this may, by taking part in both the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 as well as the legendary Indianapolis 500 on the same day.
"We have made a verbal commitment and handshake to each other to do this no matter what," Busch confirmed of his deal with Andretti Autosport CEO Michael Andretti. "He's got a sponsor, he's pushed a contract across the table to me, I've signed it, and we're going to do this one way or another."
Busch ignited speculation about an Indy 500 drive last year when he took part in a special test in an open-wheel car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with Andretti Autosport, but he eventually decided that it was too last-minute to attempt the race in 2013 - something he admits he now regrets.
"I took the conservative route and sometimes I kick myself because Carlos Munoz finished second as a rookie in that car last year," Busch admitted.
Subsequent plans to get Busch some race experience in an IndyCar in a late-season race in 2013 were thwarted when Busch unexpectedly qualified for the Sprint Cup Chase play-offs that required his full attention. But now, following Busch's move to Stewart-Haas Racing, Busch has confirmed that the attempt to do the 1,100 double duty is finally going to happen in 2014 - the first time it's been tried in ten years.
"This is really to challenge myself within motorsports," Busch said after the early morning announcement on TV on Tuesday. "Perhaps I am a bit of an old-school racer; a throw-back I guess. I enjoyed the era of drivers racing different cars and testing themselves in other series. It is tough to do now for a variety of factors, but when the opportunity is there, I want to do it."
He'll be competing against the likes of former Indy 500 champions Juan Pablo Montoya and Jacques Villeneueve, who are both returning to the event after more than a decade in other motor racing series. Adding Busch to the Andretti Autosport team will give the squad a five-car line-up with Busch alongside Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe and the returning Munoz, now an IndyCar Series regular.
"I'm really excited to have Kurt come onboard for the Indy 500," said Andretti, himself a former IndyCar as well as F1 driver in the 1990s. "He did a great job for us when he tested last year. He's obviously a natural talent and we feel he is going to take to the Indy car quickly and have a competitive month with us."
"That was a whole 'kid in a candy store' moment of experiencing an open-wheel car at 220mph," recalled Busch of last year's first outing in an IndyCar. While Busch has competed at Indianapolis several times in a stock car, this will be his first start in the open wheel championship.
"That's going to be tough to achieve with my lack of Indy experience," Busch admitted. "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. It got my mind going and the juices flowing on 'I want to do this.' The adrenaline and excitement was there, and it fuelled the passion to work on the details and turn the dream into a reality. And now here we are.
"While NASCAR is my home, I have been fortunate to compete in Pro Stock on the NHRA circuit a number of years ago and test a V8 Supercar. This opportunity was a talk with Michael over dinner one night on 'what if?' and now it's all becoming a reality for me to drive in the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport.
"It's literally a dream come true," Busch added. "To go to the famous Brickyard with the iconic Andretti name, it doesn't get much cooler or better than that."
Only three drivers John Andretti, Tony Stewart and Robby Gordon have attempted the gruelling double since it became viable with the advent of modern air travel links between Indianapolis and Charlotte where the Coca-Cola 600 takes place the same evening.
A change in the start time for the Indy 500 meant no driver had been able to try the 'Double' since Gordon in 2004, but with the green flag for this year's 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 now back at midday there is sufficient window to make the trip. However, so far only one driver has ever completed the full 1,100 distance - Tony Stewart, now Busch's Cup team boss at Stewart-Haas Racing since the beginning of the year.
"It's great having Tony as the co-owner of my NASCAR team," said Busch. "In the weeks leading up to the month of May, it gives me a chance to talk with him about his personal experiences with the 'Double,' to anticipate what's next and have things checked off the list so that I'm mentally and physically prepared for the challenge.
"He said he wanted to go and watch the beginning of the 500 with me," continued the 2004 Cup champion. "It's an amazing feeling to have a guy like Tony Stewart there. AJ Foyt, he gave me a thumbs-up at the Daytona 500, thinking that I might be doing this. So it's really nice to have the support on the open-wheel side."
Before his maiden appearance in the Indy 500 is certain, Busch will have to qualify for the starting grid. However the entry list is unlikely to exceed 33 drivers which would make that a formality, and Busch already successfully completed his mandatory Rookie Orientation Program as part of his test with the team last year - although a quick refresher is likely to be requested by the Indy 500 race director before Busch is let loose in qualifying.
"I've got videos of the last two years of the 500, and I want to get together with Tony and just watch tape and ask him as many questions as I can to put my mind at ease," Busch said. "And then to be prepared, as far as nutrition, as far as core strength, the mental aspect of it. We're going to have a ton of buddies, an entourage, wanting to go to this event.
"The stars aligned," he added. "It all made sense, and we're going to make this happen.
With the two events set for Memorial Day holiday weekend, Busch said that he planned to use the 'Double' to help raise awareness for the Armed Forces Foundation headed by his girlfriend Patricia Driscoll, with a special focus on raising awareness of issues such as post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) and the high suicide rates among veterans.