Busch behind the wheel to complete 'The Double'
CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Kurt Busch was back in his comfort zone, sliding into his familiar NASCAR ride only hours after he starred in the Indianapolis 500.
On deck in the nightcap, a shot at racing history.
Busch's helicopter landed on the track Sunday in time for him to start the Coca-Cola 600. The NASCAR veteran was trying to become just the second driver to complete the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in a single day — a grueling, 1,100-mile slog that included an airplane ride from Indiana to North Carolina to make it all happen.
He successfully completed the Indianapolis 500 earlier Sunday, then darted to the second race. The frenetic schedule didn't faze him. He even hinted it might not be his only shot at the back-to-back races.
"I do like it enough to do it again," he said after landing in North Carolina. "So we'll see how things go tonight. I want to really get settled in with the Haas Automation Chevy and give it our best. I have a job to do now. I need to ignore the 500 miles I just did."
"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.
The first leg of Busch's racing doubleheader was a total smash, as the NASCAR champion-turned-Indy rookie made it look easy at the Brickyard. Busch finished sixth in Indy after starting 12th.
Busch stepped out of the IndyCar, raised his arms in triumph, and hugged his girlfriend. His crew squeezed their way toward him down the slender Indianapolis Motor Speedway pit road for fist bumps and well wishes. His face red, throat dry, and hair slicked in sweat, Busch tossed his helmet in the No. 26.
"It was an incredible journey to sniff the lead of the Indy 500," Busch said.
With 500 miles down and 600 ahead, he was still dressed in his firesuit when he took a seat in the back of an Indiana State Trooper's car and pulled out of the garage at 3:30 p.m.
Once in the air on the Cessna Citation X that took him to Charlotte Motor Speedway, his girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll, tweeted a photo of Busch and her 9-year-old son, Houston, asleep on the plane. Busch landed at about 4:50 p.m., after a 47-minute ride.
Busch, who changed into his NASCAR firesuit on the trip, had his blood pressure checked and intravenous fluids administered by the doctor and nurse aboard the Cessna. He drank 12 ounces of water before getting into the helicopter and another 20 ounces of liquids — including beet root juice. He ate a high potassium and high protein bar, a box of raisins and a little beef jerky.
"It went like a dream," said Dr. Scott McNair, who traveled with Busch. "Everything went exactly the way we hoped. He looks great, refreshed and ready for 600 miles."
Busch missed the mandatory NASCAR driver's meeting and started in the back of the field for the Coca-Cola 600 after he qualified 28th in the series' longest race of the season. He didn't care after he overachieved at Indy.
"I wasn't a top-five driver," Busch said to one member of his team. "The car was."
With the eyes of the racing world on him, Busch was cool, confident and well rested for the feat, getting about nine hours of sleep the night before race day.
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, Driscoll and Houston, and received pre-race encouragement from racing heavyweights like car owner Chip Ganassi and rapper and actor Ice-T.
Even though the attempt 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 in Indianapolis 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 were keeping track of his progress.
"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."
Stewart tweeted, "Could not be more proud of my teammate @KurtBusch. 6th at Indy 500. Amazing job bud!"
In Indianapolis, team owner Michael Andretti made a quick stop by the car for a huge hug on his way toward finding winner Ryan Hunter-Reay.
"Nice drive," Andretti said. "Rookie of the year, buddy."
Busch's whirlwind schedule ahead of race day included a rigorous regimen of training and several 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. He also fine-tuned his diet.
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.
Busch needed about 70 laps to find his comfort level inside the snug open cockpit. Once he did, Busch was able to leave zip his way out of the high teens from the first half of the race into the top 10.
About 5 minutes after the race, Buschs had a flicker of peace all alone on a golf cart outside the Andretti garage.
"Where am I supposed to be?" Busch asked, as he toweled off his face.
On his way to North Carolina, for his shot at history.
AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli in Concord, North Carolina contributed to this report.