INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Kurt Busch kissed his girlfriend, then slid into the IndyCar cockpit, a date with racing history ahead.
“It’s all down to this, all we’ve done to get ready to this point,” he said. “I’m ready.”
Loose and confident, Busch launched his bid Sunday to complete the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in a single day. Busch faced a grueling, 1,100-mile slog that was expected to include an airplane ride from Indiana to North Carolina in time for the longer of the two races Sunday evening.
The Double has been attempted by just three drivers, the last being Robby Gordon in 2004. Only one, Tony Stewart in 2001, successfully completed the two races, finishing sixth at Indy and third at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Up first for Busch: Finishing all 500 miles at Indy.
With the eyes of the racing world on him, Busch was behind the wheel of the No. 26 Honda for Andretti Autosport and drove the first half of the race without incident. The Indy 500 was caution-free through 100 laps, the breezy pace surely aiding his bid to land with time to spare for the start of the Coca-Cola 600. Busch was well rested, getting about nine hours of sleep the night before the Double.
Busch was all smiles Sunday morning. Fans shouted encouragement at Busch as he rode a golf cart through Gasoline Alley, one yelling: “Good luck today, Kurt, times two!” Busch spent time with his parents, girlfriend Patricia Driscoll and her son, Houston, and received pre-race well wishes from racing heavyweights like car owner Chip Ganassi and rapper and actor Ice-T.
“Go get ’em,” Ice-T said.
Busch kept the schedule light Sunday morning, attending mass with his family in his motorhome. He watched a little “Gilligan’s Island” and got a sendoff from his parents, Tom and Gaye Busch. She gave him a big hug and said it was a “mother’s duty to worry.”
“This one does make me more nervous,” she said. “It’s the Indy 500. It’s a special one … I’ll tell him good luck and be safe. Oh my gosh, please be safe.”
Finish the 500, and Busch could look forward to helicopter ride and then a private jet to Concord, North Carolina, to drive the No. 41 Chevrolet.
Even though the race wasn’t promoted heavily by IndyCar or NASCAR — the races air on different networks and multiple sponsors were involved, clouding the possibilities — Busch’s debut brought some definite buzz to the “Greatest Spectacle In Racing,” the crown jewel race of the IndyCar Series and one of the most prestigious in the world.
His fellow NASCAR drivers planned to keep track of the “The Outlaw” in Indy, too.
“He’s representing the entire sport,” NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “Whether he knows it or not, he’s got a lot of people, drivers, crew and just about everyone on the infield pulling for him to do well because he is representing all of us.”
Busch’s whirlwind schedule included a rigorous regimen of training and seemingly endless flights between the two racetracks to get himself ready for motorsports’ version of climbing Mount Everest. The 35-year-old Busch has trained like a boot camp cadet in Maryland to whip his body into top shape to handle the heat, travel and weariness that will come.
Busch was loaded on carbs for the big day: His Sunday morning breakfast included: Eggs, bacon, whole grain toast, water, coffee and 16 ounces of beet root juice. On the flight to North Carolina, Busch will try to eat oatmeal with raisins, a banana, beef jerky, beet root juice and sugar water with electrolytes infused with oxygen.
A big part of the challenge for Busch was getting used to the Indy car.
At 1,500 pounds, the cars are much lighter and have less horsepower than the 3,500-pound stock cars in NASCAR Busch usually drives. IndyCar drivers have to anticipate the next move faster, especially when cars race side-by-side. The contact so familiar among cars in a NASCAR race is out of the question in IndyCar, where the cars are more susceptible to high-flying flips and the open cockpits leave drivers exposed to flying debris.
Any accident can end Busch’s bid for history. Then again, so could an odds-defying win for the open-wheel rookie in the Indianapolis 500, where he wrecked his primary car in practice and wound up in a backup.
“If he wins,” Stewart said, “I don’t care if he gets to the 600 on time or not.”
Busch does. He vowed to arrive at Charlotte on time — even if he packs the celebratory milk to go and doesn’t sweat the Borg-Warner Trophy.
And if he wins Indy?
“I’ll kiss the trophy,” he said, then smooched Driscoll, “and the Borg-Warner, too.”