The Inside Line: Memorable day for Kurt Busch

 

The Sports Network

(SportsNetwork.com) - Kurt Busch came up 193.5 miles short of completing all 1,100 miles in his first Indianapolis 500/Coca-Cola 600 "double" on Sunday, but what a day it was for the 35-year-old race car driver.

Busch, the 2004 NASCAR Cup Series champion, became just the fourth driver to compete in the 500-mile race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the 600-mile event at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the same day. He has spent the last several months preparing for his marathon day.

Driving the No. 26 Suretone Entertainment-sponsored car for Andretti Autosport, Busch completed all 200 laps, 500 miles at Indy. His sixth-place finish was the highest among the seven rookies competing in that event.

Busch's teammate, Ryan Hunter-Reay, won the Indy 500 for the first time. Hunter-Reay beat Helio Castroneves to the finish line by just 0.060 seconds, making it the second-closest margin of victory in the history of this prestigious race. Marco Andretti finished third, followed by Carlos Munoz and Juan Pablo Montoya, who competed against Busch in NASCAR's premier series from 2007-13. Andretti and Munoz are Busch's teammates as well.

Attempting to match Tony Stewart's 2001 feat of running the full 1,100 miles, Busch's race at Charlotte ended prematurely when his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Chevrolet suffered engine failure after he had completed 271 laps. He finished 40th.

Despite a disappointing end to his day, Busch was very pleased with accomplishment. It was day in his racing career that he will never forget.

"[Sunday] is a memory I'll have forever," Busch said. "It was a challenge I put forth for myself. I enjoyed it. I soaked it all in up North. I loved racing up in Indy, in front of all the Indiana natives and the Hoosiers. They love their speedway up there. That speedway loves them.

"That's what I really saw out of that track. There was a grand stage to stand on and represent NASCAR. We brought her home in sixth place. I didn't think I had anything for those top-five guys. They were racing hard. And those were the top-five in that series. They're strong. They're tough."

Busch was very impressive in his Indy 500 debut, driving his car without any noticeable mistakes. The day after qualifying 12th for this race, he wrecked his primary vehicle during practice. Busch lost control while exiting turn 2 and made hard contact with the SAFER barrier. He drove Marco Andretti's backup car and was able to keep his 12th starting position for the race.

"What an unbelievable experience," Busch said after the Indy 500 had concluded. "To be able to post a sixth-place finish was beyond my wildest expectations. We settled in and ran laps and tried to pace ourselves. I just tried to feel the car all race long. My throat is real dry because I was smiling the whole time and fresh air was coming in my mouth."

Team owner Michael Andretti had four of his five drivers finish in the top- six. James Hinchcliffe was involved in an accident with pole sitter Ed Carpenter with 25 laps to go.

In early March, Andretti Autosport announced that it would enter a fifth car in the Indy 500, with Busch behind the wheel.

"Hats off to him," Michael Andretti said of Busch's efforts in the Indy 500. "He did a really good job. He came in here with the right mindset. He came in with a lot of experience, but still coming in with the mindset of a rookie. He went to school and was a great student."

Immediately after the Indy 500, Busch flew on a Cessna Citation X to Concord, North Carolina. He arrived at CMS via helicopter shortly before 5 p.m. ET. The green flag for the Coca-Cola 600 waved at 6:20 p.m. Busch qualified 28th for the race on Thursday but had to start it from the rear of the field since he missed the drivers' meeting.

The 600-mile race at Charlotte is the longest event of the NASCAR season.

Busch fell one lap behind in the early going but managed to get back on the lead lap during a caution later in the race. Just after the halfway point, he began experiencing engine trouble. Busch's motor finally expired on lap 272, as his hopes of completing 1,100 miles literally went up in smoke.

"It's a tough break," he said. "It takes a team if you're going to do 1,100 miles. It's not just one individual. We came up just short."

Busch had been working out extensively to improve his upper-body strength for the double. He focused heavily on nutrition in the days leading up to Sunday. After his race ended at Charlotte, Busch looked as though he could race another 500 or 600 miles. He was certainly in good spirits.

"I'm feeling good, actually," Busch said. "My hands are a little sore, and my feet are a little sore just from working it. Overall, I can stand here with a smile, knowing I gave it my all for six months, trying to get to this point."

Busch is already thinking of another Indy/Charlotte double, possibly next year.

"I'd love to do it again," he stated. "At the same time, you've got to do it with quality teams. The teams really can make the big difference in all of this. I have to thank Andretti, and I have to thank Stewart-Haas."

Right now, Busch will focus all of his attention on his Sprint Cup efforts. He won the March 30 event at Martinsville but has finished no better than 23rd in the six races since.

Busch is currently 28th in the point standings. His victory at Martinsville virtually assured him of making this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. But he must finish in the top-30 in points when the regular season concludes (Sept. 6 at Richmond) in order to qualify for the Chase.

Read more Sprint Cup stories from the Miami Herald

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