by Ryan Isley
One day. 1,100 miles of racing. Two different races at tracks 600 miles apart from each other. Kurt Busch’s weekend should be sponsored by Travelocity.
Over Memorial Day weekend, Busch will become the fourth driver since 1994 and just the first since Robby Gordon in 2004 to try to run both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day. Only one guy – Tony Stewart in 2001 – made it through the entire 1,100 miles. Gordon has tried the double five times and Stewart has done it twice, with John Andretti and Davy Jones each attempting it once, although Jones failed to qualify for the second leg.
To be honest, I would have thought someone like A.J. Allmendinger would be the next driver to attempt the double. And I wrote before last season that Danica Patrick should skip the Coca-Cola 600 to run the Indianapolis 500. But it makes sense that Kurt Busch is the one trying to pull this off at this time.
While there were rumors that Busch would attempt the feat last season after testing for Andretti Autosport in Indianapolis, 2014 seems like the perfect year for him to try the double. Even though he sits just 28th in NASCAR Sprint Cup points, he already has a win this season, meaning that he will make the Chase as long as he stays in the top 30. Heading into the Coca-Cola 600 in 2013, he sat 18th in points without the provisions about winning getting a driver into the Chase.
It is important to be locked in – or almost locked in – to the Chase when trying this because with the two races on the same day, he will have to start the Coca-Cola 600 from the back of the field unless his day in Indianapolis ends early.
Another reason I believe this was the right time for Busch to jump on the opportunity is because he has been working on rehabbing his reputation for the past couple of seasons and it seems to have worked to an extent. It wasn’t long ago – the end of the 2011 season to be exact – that we didn’t know whether or not Busch would get another shot in NASCAR. Busch lost his ride at Penske Racing following the 2011 season after berating ESPN’s Dr. Jerry Punch at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the season’s final race – the latest in a long line of incidents for Busch. He was given the opportunity to drive for Phoenix Racing, an obvious step down for the powerhouse of Penske.
Despite the new opportunity, Busch reverted back to the old Kurt on occasion, most notably when he told reporter Bob Pockrass that being on probation was keeping him from beating Pockrass’ ass after a question. The incidents became less frequent and less serious once he left for Furniture Row Racing to finish 2012 and race the entire 2013 season.
Now with Stewart-Haas Racing, Busch seems to have found a good spot and has been quieter than in the past. The only controversy this season so far was between Kurt and Brad Keselowski, with Keselowski coming out of the incident looking worse than Busch. At that point, it seemed that fans may have started to side with Busch, something that seemed inconceivable even last season. But Kurt – and his brother Kyle – have both appeared to calm down over the last 12-15 months, making them easier to root for and harder to hate. We couldn’t have said that had he tried the double last season.
With this seemingly softer and kinder Kurt Busch running the Indianapolis 500, it gives NASCAR fans someone they can root for – something they haven’t really had since Stewart’s last try at the double in 2001. While Robby Gordon has tried it three times since then, he was never a guy that NASCAR fans really counted as theirs. With Busch, he is a former Sprint Cup champion and has been in the series for 15 seasons.
That last season Stewart tried the double was his most successful, and the best attempt by anyone yet. He finished sixth in the Indianapolis 500 and then third in the Coca-Cola 600. His combined finish of ninth was four spots better than his previous best when he finished ninth in the Indianapolis 500 and then fourth in the Coca-Cola 600 in 1999. The next best performance was turned in by Gordon in 2002 when he finished eighth in the Indianapolis 500 and then 16th in the Coca-Cola 600.
If Busch is going to have success at the Indianapolis 500, it might be tougher than originally anticipated. While practicing on Monday, Busch hit a wall and ruined the car he was going to drive, instead forced to drive a backup car but will still start 12th. And as mentioned earlier, he will probably have to come from the back of the field if he wants to win or even be competitive in the Coca-Cola 600.
Either way, one thing is for sure – he will have more NASCAR fans cheering for him to pull this off than he would have at any other point in his career. As they say, timing is everything.