By Mike Leslie, Sports Anchor/Digital Journalist - email
SPEEDWAY, Ind. (NASCAR.com) -- As Kurt Busch stood on pit road Saturday waiting to make his qualifying attempt at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he couldn’t help but wonder what it might be like to be in a similar situation at the same track -- but in a different month of the year.
The 2004 champion of NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series, Busch tested an IndyCar at the Brickyard in May, and has a clear interest in potentially competing in the Indianapolis 500. That curiosity was further piqued Saturday, when he stood down in Indy’s canyon of a frontstretch before qualifying sixth for the 20th edition of the NASCAR event at the 104-year-old track.
“I can honestly say, standing out on the grid ready to qualify, that our qualifying is a lot less nerve-wracking than it would be to be ready for a full day, four laps at a time, and putting an open-wheel car on the grid,” Busch said. “I was trying to chew on some of those emotions. That way, if I do come back in the month of May, I can chew on them and not be so nervous.”
On May 9, Busch took part in an IndyCar rookie test on the 2.5-mile speedway and passed it by turning a speed of 218.210 mph. Although neither the driver nor Andretti Autosport, the open-wheel team that supplied a vehicle for the test, were prepared to make a run at this year’s Indy 500, Busch is clearly intrigued by the idea. The Furniture Row Racing driver would also have to factor in NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600, run on the same day as the Indy 500, although later in the evening. Three drivers have attempted the Memorial Day double -- Tony Stewart, John Andretti and Robby Gordon -- with Stewart being the only one to successfully complete all the laps.
“It’s something you want to do as a dream,” Busch said. “Sometimes you have to throw away common sense when you have a dream, and to go and do it. We’ll see if it turns out. A lot of guys would love to do it, but there’s that 600-mile race you’ve got to do that same night. So that’s the big focus for a stock-car guy.”
How serious is Busch? Consider that he recently had a 45-minute telephone conversation with former Penske Racing teammate Sam Hornish Jr., an IndyCar and Indianapolis 500 champion who made the jump full-time to NASCAR in 2008. Hornish came away from that discussion believing that Busch would attempt the Indy 500 eventually.
“He called me up one day and wanted to know about sitting in the car and differences between the IndyCar and stock car, and little things about the nuances. A lot of the things he asked me I knew he had put a lot of thought into. It was neat for me to be able to go through those things because there are so many things that don’t transfer over between the two cars,” said Hornish, now a full-time driver in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
“I had a lot of fun, actually, explaining to him things I had experienced running the IndyCar here and the differences between it. The fact that he has ran here in a stock car as much as he has was a neat thing for me, because he has been around here a ton of laps, so it isn’t like he doesn’t know how to do it. It just showed how serious it is. He only went and did some practice this year, but I wouldn’t be too surprised to see him make it happen where he runs the Indy 500 in the next couple of years.”
Busch’s take on the conversation: “It was neat to switch the roles with Sam,” said the 24-time race winner on NASCAR’s top circuit. “He was the student and I was the mentor when he came to stock cars, and I tried to help him out. It was just great to give him a call, and talk to an Indy 500 champion.”
As for who might field a car, Busch said he’s received “a couple of other offers from a couple of other teams after we did our practice session with Andretti,” a team owned by longtime Indy 500 participant Michael Andretti. “But I’d like to do it with Andretti,” Busch added, “since he’s the one who dipped me in the bath the first time and baptized me.”
Saturday, Busch sounded as if the effort hinged on sponsorship -- a factor that transcends all disciplines in auto racing. “Sponsorship is the name of the game,” he said. “… So we’re out there looking, and we’re out there promoting, and we’ll see if things come together the right way.”
WJZY FOX 46 3501 Performance Rd. Charlotte, NC 28214 Main Number: (704) 398-0046