Bittersweet finish to Kurt Busch's long Indy-to-Charlotte Saturday
MAY 18, 2014 1:02a ET
Kurt Busch bowed out of Indianapolis 500 qualifying early on Saturday to get to Charlotte Motor Speedway in time for Saturday night's Sprint All-Star Race.
In hindsight, he wishes he would have stayed a little later.
Busch posted the 10th-fastest speed in qualifying at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, just missing out on being one of the 'Fast Nine' drivers who will have a chance to run for the pole on Sunday at the famed 2.5-mile facility.
Arriving at CMS in time to participate in the all-star race's unique qualifying format under which each driver runs three laps and makes a timed four-tire pit stop, Busch was hit with a lugnut penalty that dropped the veteran driver from 10th to 18th on the 22-car grid.
Starting the final 10-lap money segment in ninth, Busch lost two positions at the end and was forced to settle for an 11th-place finish in the non-points event.
At the end of the night, the 2004 Sprint Cup Series champion reminisced on all that his long day had brought.
"It was an amazing day to qualify at the Indy 500," he said. "My thought process was to give respect to the NASCAR side, come back, go to the driver's meeting -- that way we would get our starting spot on however we performed in qualifying. My fear was if we left a lugnut loose it would be all for naught up there, and we left a lugnut loose. I should have stayed up there (at Indianapolis) to make a third (qualifying) run and see if we could be in the top nine and have a shot at pole tomorrow.
"But let's keep this all in perspective. I'm a rookie up there. To be 10th on your first time at the Indy 500 after the first day, it's a nice feeling. It was neat to go 230 mph, come down here, act like an animal coming on pit road at 150 miles an hour -- that was fun cold turkey -- and then run in the all-star race with the best of the best in our garage. It wasn't a poor finish, but it wasn't a great finish."
Busch returns to The Brickyard on Sunday morning to lock in his grid position, knowing he will start the Indy 500 somewhere between 10th and 30th. The Las Vegas native is more concerned, however, about finding additional speed in his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing car than where he will line up on the grid at Indianapolis in a week.
"It's just a shame that we're not running up to the front and racing aggressive to have a shot at winning," said Busch, who has struggled since going to Victory Lane at Martinsville Speedway in March. "We're more just kind of trying to find our balance, and if you're trying to find your way, that means you're just going to protect the track position you have; you're not going to be able to gain track position."
Saturday, of course, was just a dress rehearsal for what Busch will do on May 25 when he becomes just the fourth driver in history to run the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte on the same day.
"My body will be fatigued after that 500 and it will be a matter of just trying to get as much rest in and be mentally focused for the 600 miles," Busch said after Saturday night's 5-segment exhibition. "Tonight it took that one segment -- 20 laps -- to get adjusted."
As for the day as a whole, Busch will ultimately look back on it with fond memories -- even if he was a little disappointed about the final outcome at both tracks.
"I kept just taking in a deep breath and taking it all in," he said. "It was really neat to do what I did at Indy this morning. ... It'd have been nice if I could have stayed late. I think that rain shower up there from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. really cooled off the track and gave guys an advantage to go at the end.
"But they know what they're doing up there. They're a good group, and it would have been hard to break into that top nine, but it would have been sure fun to try."