Back to Racing News & Views
KURT BUSCH TAKES ANOTHER STEP TOWARDS RACING IN THE INDIANAPOLIS 500
Photo by Brady Whitesel
Photo by Brady Whitesel
May 9th 2013 -
By:  Mark W. Theisen (photos by Brady Whitesel); INDIANAPOLIS, IN. May 9, 2013:     2004 NASCAR champion, Kurt Busch is a racer, like him or not, the temperamental Nevada driver does not shy away from competition nor is his love of motorsports more prevalent.

     This afternoon at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway Busch took his second ride in an Indy Car, this time not in a made for television series promotional photo-op, but a no holes barred all-out test in one of the most potent cars on the IZOD Indy Car series, that of defending champion Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosports.


     When I first heard of this test I thought it to be Chevrolet giving one of its NASCAR drivers an opportunity to gain media exposure for not only Chevrolet, but Indy Car and this year’s Indianapolis 500, and to that extent it served its purpose but Busch also had an agenda and at the end of the 83 lap test it was clear that this was a full out driver’s test and laps at over 218 miles-per-hour proved that this was just not a showcase.

     Busch has an impressive driver resume, NASCAR champion, winner in all three of NASCAR’s primary touring series, Cup, Nationwide and Truck,  a dabble in the National Hot Rod Association’s Pro-Stock series and even a test earlier this year in a V8 Supercar at the Circuit of America’s in Texas.  Clearly the 34 year driver has a lot that he wants to accomplish before he ends his racing career.

     In 2003 when Busch, an up and coming star in the Ford Camp, was offered a test in a Lola powered by Ford open wheel car owned by Rahal Letterman Racing at Sebring, it was his first exposure to that type of race car and despite it being a “made for TV” opportunity it was an experience that was savored and retained in his memory with his next opportunity coming 10 years later.

     Make no mistake, Busch is committed to the NASCAR Sprint Cup series and his Furniture Row Chevrolet is a solid team albeit not of super power status as a Hendrick, Gibbs or Roush fielded car but given the right set of circumstances Busch is looking towards the 2014 Indianapolis 500 to join a select grouping of drivers that have competed in the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte, North Carolina on the same day.

     With Busch and Furniture Row and Andretti Autosports being within the Chevrolet family it was easy to see this deal coming together but it moved from an in-house promotion to a full blown test when it was not one of Chevrolet’s NASCAR superstars such as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart or Jimmy Johnson on hand to do a couple of laps, it was clear that Busch wanted to see what he could not with an Indy Car and how he would respond to the tight confines of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

     Another fact that gave credence to the test was that Andretti provided his number one car in his stable that includes five drivers for this year’s 500.  The Hunter-Reay machine used was the primary car for the champion to attempt to qualify for this year’s 500 on May 18th.  It was almost like Days of Thunder when Cole took Rowdy’s championship Chevrolet out for a test as everyone waited for something bad to happen.  It didn’t happen in the movie and it didn’t happen in Indy today.

     Under the tutorship of team owner, Michael Andretti, with one of his driver’s James Hinchcliffe on hand for additional driver and technical support the test came off without a hitch and did it set the stage for something with this team for the future?

      The test was set up as a regular rookie orientation program with Busch completing laps at pre-designated speeds progressing to his flat-out runs.  He passed each level with flying colors but at the completion Busch said that while he would really like to do something as soon as possible it is just not in the cards for this year, not financially, not mentally or even physically.

     “To do this (the 500) takes not only money but preparation,” said Busch.  “I wouldn’t be able to do it this year, just with the stamina alone.  This (the 500) would take something away from my stock car team and I can’t do that now.  I need to get more comfortable in an Indy car and then work towards building a program for next year.”

     Two time NASCAR champion and five time Indianapolis 500 mile starter Tony Stewart, who was rumored to be envious of Busch’s run today, said prior to the test that he had no doubt that Busch could make the 500 in a competitive car and he looked all the prophet after the test today but he also said it would take time to fit all the pieces together and that is what Busch’s next steps are.

     To realize his dream he needs to get that practice that he referred to in an Indy Car.  Andretti is committed to the five cars for the 500 but has only 4 full-time series cars the rest of the season.  A few Indy Car Series oval races later in the year do not conflict with the NASCAR Cup schedule and thus it could afford Busch an opportunity to gain that experience.  Should Busch decide on that course it is very likely he could find sponsorship to do so and use that experience to sell his effort for 2014.

     Sounds like a big effort but consider that he already has Chevrolet in his corner is a huge lift for him one that drivers aspiring to Indy Car and the 500 have to hurdle.  Next, he has established a relationship with a major player in Indy car and that is something that needs time and exposure to accomplish.   Having these credentials on his resume Busch should find gaining sponsorship much easier than other drivers face each and every year when it comes the Indy Car series and the 500.

     NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 and the Indianapolis 500 fall on the same day, the starting times allow for a driver to do both but it is physically and emotionally demanding and at 35 Busch would be the oldest to try and accomplish that but when one considers all the obstacles that he has overcome in his career this would a “piece of cake” if he were to fully commit to the effort and I think he will.

INDY 500 AND INDY CAR SERIES NOTES:

     Hinchcliffe became the first two time winner in the IZOD Indy Cars series last Sunday in Sao Paulo, Brazil with a last corner pass of Takuma Sato to take the Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300 with Marco Andretti finishing third.  It was the third win in four races this year for the Andretti Autosports team and once again the podium was crowded with new faces.

     The final laps of the race saw Sato, on very worn tires, try to hold Hinchcliffe and the rest of the field at bay only to slide out of the groove in the final turn giving the lead and the win to Hinchcliffe, who won the season opening race in Florida only to suffer problems in the next two races finishing near the rear of the field.  The Indy Car races continue to be exciting and unpredictable and I can’t wait for the 500 with the unlimited possibilities and story lines.

     Sato took the point lead from Helio Castroneves as the series now heads to Indianapolis 500 and the first oval track race of the year.  This is the first time that a driver for A.J. Foyt Racing, Sato, comes to the Indy 500 with the point lead in 30 years.

     As previously reported the effort by 1996 Indy 500 winner Buddy Lazier to field a car for this year’s 500 have come happen with the forming of Lazier Partners a group of friends of the former winner that bought the former Jean Alesi car and formed an alliance with Chevrolet for the engine as well as enticed may former associates to join the team in an effort to make the race.

      With Lazier’s entry the 500 now has 34 cars and a “bump” is assured on May 19th.  In addition Lazier is the fourth former 500 mile champion to try and qualify for this year’s race joining Dario Franchitti, Castroneves and Scott Dixon.  At 45 years Lazier becomes the senior member of the driver’s trying to qualify for this year’s 97th running to the 500.

     The Speedway opens formally on Saturday.  Watch for continued updates.