INDIANAPOLIS — From under the sun at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to under the lights at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kurt Busch was the busiest driver in motorsports this weekend.
His frequent flyer miles are piling up in his quest to complete a racing feat known as “The Double.”
On May 25, he’ll try to race in the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day – all 1,100 arduous miles.
It’s two different styles of racing in two different cars, and if he succeeds, he’ll show he’s one of the most talented drivers in racing history.
But to do it, he’ll be flying back and forth between both venues all week and the day of the race with little time to spare.
There was a dress rehearsal this weekend for race day and The Associated Press tagged along with Busch and his entourage by helicopter and plane for the Indy-North Carolina-Indy connection for two days of Indy 500 qualifying and NASCAR’s All-Star race.
9:30 a.m., Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Rise and shine! Busch had trouble sleeping the night before Saturday morning practice.
Because rain washed out most of practice this week, Busch failed to get his car in some of the qualifying setups his Andretti Autosport team wanted to work on. Cool weather pushed practice back from the scheduled 8 a.m. start.
“Each day has been a nice step forward. Today, I had to take a big step,” he said.
It was pretty big. He hit 230.984 mph in the No. 26 Honda and was fourth in the first practice session. Busch did get to relax a bit with dinner out on a Friday date night with his girlfriend and spokesperson, Patricia Driscoll. “My No. 1 PR girl,” he said, smiling.
The dress rehearsal for The Double was off and running.
12:10 p.m., Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Welcome to Indy, rookie. A NASCAR veteran, Busch is still an IndyCar newbie, taking his first serious spins this month in the open-wheel car. All eyes have been on him, especially Driscoll’s. Her arms folded, Driscoll keeps close watch on the IMS videoboard to monitor Busch’s qualifying run. Busch whizzes by in a blur of 229.137 mph in one lap. Not bad for a first-timer. The public address announcer asks for applause. “Congratulations, Kurt Busch, you’re in the top nine ... for the moment,” he says. Busch is officially in the 500 field. But he wanted more. “Maybe I wasn’t focused as I needed to be,” he said. “Caught up in the emotion a little. Maybe I left a little out on the table with the car.” He gives Driscoll a big kiss before hopping back in the car for a few rounds of pictures with different hats for all the sponsors.
Mid-afternoon. Busch motorhome, Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Grub time. Busch turned into a fitness nut in the weeks leading up to The Double. Driscoll has put proper training and eating tips into his lifestyle, even mapping out his race weekend diet. Busch uses his down time picking on lamb, chicken, pasta and vegetables to fuel him for the races ahead.
2:10 p.m., Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Let’s do it again. Convinced he can top his first run, Busch hits the track again at 2:03 p.m. for a second attempt at cracking the Fast Nine. Should he post one of the nine fastest speeds, he can contend for the pole – the driver out front of the 33-car field – on Sunday. The gamble pays off and Busch temporarily moves into third with a four-lap average of 229.960. “Why not go for it and try to get into that final group? I gave my heart a run at it. If we end up outside of the top nine, I know I gave it my all and that was really a neat experience.”
2:35 p.m. Million Air private airport, Indianapolis.
After a quick helicopter ride, Busch, Driscoll, two reporters, a photographer and a cameraman board a Cessna Citation 750 X headed to North Carolina. The flight aboard the private plane that belongs to NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray will last a brisk 51 minutes over 372 miles with a top speed of about 606 mph. It’s about the only ride Busch will find this weekend faster than his IndyCar.
2:57 p.m., Sky High
Busch comes bounding into the plane feeling good after temporarily holding third place. Driscoll needles her boyfriend by telling guests they came on a good day because usually after qualifying Busch, “is not this fun. At all. Right?”
“Yes, dear,” Busch says.
But he’s truly feeling great after proving he can run with IndyCar’s big guns. Busch says he felt three “moments” in the car that made him uneasy. “Four for four and you end up coming back in a meat wagon.”
Busch and Driscoll are then miked up for their parts in an NBC documentary on The Double that will air in June. Busch keeps scrolling his mobile phone for Indy qualifying updates. Rain hits the track and halts qualifying, briefly keeping him in contention for the Fast Nine.
Busch and Driscoll pass the time playfully arguing over the true location of the Mason-Dixon Line.
“What is your point?” she asked.
“The point is, your house is in Maryland. The north. You think that house is in the South. It’s not in the South.”
Talk turns to the $1 million payout that goes to the winner of the All-Star race. Driscoll says she’ll take the cash because Busch has yet to pay up on a bet that he’d get her a Corvette if he won at Martinsville. He took the checkered flag – and there’s no Corvette in the driveway of their home.
3:43 p.m., Above Concord, North Carolina.
“I should be taking a nap,” Busch said. He has yet to eat or drink anything on the plane. But Busch is feeling, well, bushed. He reclines his seat and stretches his legs onto Driscoll’s lap. He tips his black SureTone cap so the bill rests on the bridge of his nose, leans back and dozes off for about 20 minutes. He wakes up as Charlotte Motor Speedway comes into focus. “I’m ready to go again.” For tonight, CMS is the site of a low-key exhibition race. But on Sunday, he’ll have 600 grueling miles left to race.
5:20 p.m., Charlotte Motor Speedway
“How’d you do?”
Clint Bowyer is the first NASCAR driver to greet Busch in the pre-race driver’s meeting. And, like the rest of the racing world, Busch updates are a hot topic. “Juan (Pablo Montoya) just pushed me to 10th. By like, .06,” he replies.
“What does that mean?” Bowyer asked.
“It means,” Busch said, plainly, “I don’t have a shot at the pole.”
Now dressed in Stewart-Haas Racing gear, Busch grabs a seat behind WWE Hall of Famer and NASCAR fan Shawn Michaels for the meeting.
9:21 p.m., Charlotte Motor Speedway
Time for driver introductions. County singer Jake Owen bellows to the crowd, “Y’all give it up for Mr. Kurt Busch! Doing the double!”
Busch smiles and waves to thousands of fans. Almost 12½ hours since he slipped into the IndyCar cockpit, he’s about to drive the No. 41 Chevrolet in NASCAR’s All-Star race.
11:25 p.m., Charlotte Motor Speedway
He doesn’t blow a gasket, but Busch is clearly irked after an 11th-place finish in the All-Star race. He was hit with a five-second penalty in qualifying which forced him to start 18th. He could never really recover – which caused him to second-guess his decision to leave Indy before qualifying ended. Had he stayed in Indianapolis, he would have made a third run at starting in the top nine. With pressure growing with each lap, Busch has regret over a decision for the first time. “My thought process was, give respect to the NASCAR side, come back, go to the driver’s meeting,” Busch said. “That way, we would get our starting spot however we performed in qualifying. My fear was, if we left a lug nut loose, it would be all for naught up there. We left a lug nut loose (in qualifying). I should have stayed up there to make a third run, and see if we could have been in the top nine and have a shot at pole tomorrow.”
8:35 a.m., Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Who needs sleep? Busch boards the airplane back to Indianapolis for practice and qualifying at 6:22 a.m. Is he still upset about the race? Is he focused on qualifying? Who knows. He puts the seat down, pulls his hood over his head and closes his eyes. About an hour later, he’s awake and on his way to the track. Shortly after 8:30 a.m. he’s again in the No. 26 and off he goes – 231.775 mph. His best yet.
His best perhaps yet to come.