Editor’s note: For this week’s Throwback Thursday, we recall Kurt Busch’s amazing rookie run in the 2014 Indianapolis 500.
How significant was Kurt Busch’s sixth-place finish in his first Indianapolis 500 on Sunday?
Put simply, it was remarkable, especially given that it was Busch’s first race of any kind in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
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With all of Busch’s prior major professional auto racing experience in stock cars, to come into the biggest open-wheel race of the year in a series he’d never raced in, in a car he’d never raced in and with a team he’d never raced with, was eye-opening to say the least.
To put it into context, of the drivers who’ve won the Indy 500 in the past decade, only three-time winner Helio Castroneves was better in his first 500 than Busch was. Castroneves won the 500 as a rookie in 2001. Of course, Castroneves had been driving open-wheel race cars for virtually all his professional career.
How did Busch fare relative to recent Indy 500 winners in their first appearances in the big race? Some comparisons:
The late Dan Wheldon, who won the 500 in 2005 and 2011, was 19th in his first attempt in 2003.
Dario Franchitti, winner in 2007, ’10 and ’12, also was 19th in his first Indy 500, back in 2002.
Also in 2002, Tony Kanaan was 28th. He would go on to win the 500 in 2013.
In 2003, Scott Dixon finished 17th in his first race at the fabled 2.5-mile track. Five years later, Dixon would win at Indy.
Yesterday’s winner, Ryan Hunter-Reay, finished sixth as rookie – the same as Busch yesterday – in his first 500 in 2008.
Even more telling, perhaps, Busch did much, much better going from a stock car to an IndyCar than some of IndyCar’s stars have in their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts:
Danica Patrick was 38th in her debut in the 2012 Daytona 500.
Juan Pablo Montoya finished 34th at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2006.
AJ Allmendinger was 40th at the spring race at Bristol in 2007.
Franchitti is a three-time Indy 500 winner, but he was just 33rd when he made his Cup debut in the 2008 Daytona 500.
Last but not least, three-time IndyCar Series champion Sam Hornish Jr. came home 30th in the November 2007 Phoenix race.
Any way you look at it, Busch’s run was of historic proportions, even though an engine failure cut short his attempt to go the distance in Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 Sprint Cup race.
"What an unbelievable experience," said Busch of his Indy run. "I’m sure I had a top-five car. I was on the edge after those two restarts, making adjustments, trying to find [clean] air. All in all, I’m very pleased. To be able to post a sixth-place finish was beyond my wildest expectations."