With one sudden spin and slam into the wall, Kurt Busch’s IndyCar burst into flames.
His shot at The Double, almost up in smoke.
Busch walked away unscathed, his car totaled for this weekend’s Indy 500. He’ll have an Andretti Autosport backup ready to go for race day, when he tries to make history by becoming only the second driver to complete 1,100 total miles by racing in the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca Cola 600 in the same day.
“You’re here this morning, you’re upright, you’re OK, but you crashed yesterday,” host Matt Lauer said on NBC’s “Today” show over a photo of Busch’s No. 26 Honda on fire.
He sure did, and it was a doozy. Busch spun coming out of the second turn on the 2.5-mile oval and smacked into the outside wall. It was the biggest crash of the month.
Busch was lucky his accident didn’t cost him more than a car. And his Tony Stewart-owned NASCAR team surely said a big thanks that one of their key cogs won’t miss any time in his day job.
“I’ll get over it quick. I’ve wrecked cars before,” Busch said. “I got sideways, I tried to correct it. I had it for a moment, but then I tried to overcorrect it.”
Busch is attempting to become the fourth driver to complete the back-to-back race feat known as “The Double.” He’s making his debut in IndyCar, and the 2004 Cup champion acknowledged that he made a rookie mistake on the track.
“We made a couple of changes, it was back to my most confident feel in the car,” he said. “I just got too aggressive with sway bar changes, weight jacker changes, and didn’t stay up on top of my adjustments.”
At 1,500 pounds, IndyCars are lighter and have less horsepower than the 3,500-pound cars in NASCAR Busch usually drives. That leaves IndyCars more susceptible to flips and even fatalities. Busch’s crash sent tires and other debris strewn across the track.
The compact stock cars are designed for bangin’ and crashin’ and side-by-side racing. Unlike the sleek IndyCars, stock cars are modeled to look like ones sold on showroom floors. It’s NASCAR’s way of putting the “stock” back in stock-car racing. Grills and body lines are similar. Silhouettes are within millimeters of their showroom counterparts.
NASCAR drivers are protected by a roof. IndyCars have no doors, an open cockpit and about a dozen control buttons at the driver’s disposal.
Busch started racing karts as a kid, and won races early in his career in just about every type of series, one reason he has the confidence he can pull of the dual feat. But for all his racing guile, he’s still just a first-timer in open-wheel with only weeks of experience, a fact he made easy to forget with the blistering speeds posted during Indy practice. He’ll start 12th in the 500 — four spots higher than last year’s champ, Tony Kanaan.
Busch’s “NASCAR instincts” got him in trouble during the wreck, 2000 Indy 500 winner and former NASCAR driver Juan Pablo Montoya said. Montoya mimicked the motion of turning a wheel all the way as a source of the problem.
He explained: “Too much wheel. … A NASCAR wheel goes and it stays there for a long time. It doesn’t kick back. The IndyCar, an open wheel, kicks back.”
“In NASCAR, you can fight with it all the way to the wall to try to save it. They slide and you can help it,” Montoya said. “In IndyCar, when it goes, ask Kurt what happened. And NASCAR is a lot more forgiving because the car is bigger, heavier, there’s so much mass that it just takes a lot to get it moving.”
Busch knows there’s more to learn in his new ride, and he won’t truly grasp the nuances of racing in corners or handling traffic until Sunday.
“I have to use my experience from the NASCAR world to feel the car, know what to do in traffic, predict restarts,” he said. “It will be a full set of lessons learned in the first half of the race. If I’m there halfway, I’ll start to apply it.”
Stewart, a champion driver in both series, has offered Busch tips on the differences between each car.
“With those cars, it’s all about momentum and being able to carry corner speeds,” Stewart said. “It’s a little more crucial in those cars than it is in ours because we have horsepower to fall back on.”
Hours after the wreck, Busch said he felt fine, up for the grind of his media obligations. He went out for dinner in New York with rapper Ice-T and his wife, Coco. He’ll return to racing Friday when the final 1-hour Indy 500 practice sessions will be held. The 35-year-old Busch is in the shape of his career thanks to workouts in a karate dojo, and newfound dedication to proper fitness and nutrition.
“I would consider him a possible top-three finisher, if he gets through all the problems during the race,” 1998 Indy 500 winner Eddie Cheever said. “He’s been incredible. I’m very impressed.”