Kurt Busch just misses Fast Nine in Indy 500 qualifying
MAY 17, 2014 1:20p ET
Kurt Busch had a full day of action at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway long before he headed back to North Carolina to compete in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.
He made an initial qualification attempt with a four-lap average of 229.256 miles per hour, but his team expected more out of the No. 26 Dallara/Honda.
As Busch was sitting on his IndyCar after qualifying for the 98th Indianapolis 500 for the traditional qualification photo, his team engineer pondered the thought of going out to make another attempt to increase his speed.
Craig Hampson is the man behind Busch's Indy 500 effort and the Andretti Autosport engineer was asked if he were happy with Busch’s four-lap average of 229.256 miles per hour.
"No," Hampson said.
Busch went back out for a qualification attempt at 2:04 p.m. ET and improved his speed to 229.960 mph -- good enough for that time to put him on the outside of Row 1 for the time being. That speed knocked Helio Castroneves off Row 1 at the time.
"It was amazing the way the track had me so disconnected this morning," Busch said. "I did four laps and it felt like one. This time I did Lap 1, Lap 2, Lap 3 and Lap 4 -- whatever it was going to take. The drizzle hit my helmet and I just said go for it. This is Indy. Craig's group and their experience level helped my inexperience level.
"Even if we get bumped out of the Fast Nine I will leave here content because I gave it my best effort. I was able to live a dream today and go 230 miles per hour. I feel like a nice chapter has been closed today. I hope to be in the Fast Nine. If not, I'm fine. Now, it's on to the race next week."
Busch departed the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at 2:45 p.m. to fly back to North Carolina and compete in Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race on Fox Sports1.
After Busch's departure, however, attempt after attempt from other drivers and teams followed. And one by one Busch fell down on the Saturday grid from outside the front row all the way to the driver “on the bubble” in danger of being bounced out of the Fast Nine.
Finally, at 5:07 p.m. former NASCAR driver and 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya ran a four-lap average of 229.966 mph in a Dallara/Chevrolet for Verizon Team Penske and that knocked Busch out of the Fast Nine.
Unable to make another attempt because he was at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Busch ended up 10th fastest. That left him just outside the Fast Nine who will have a chance to go for the pole in qualifying on Sunday.
Busch will determine his position on the starting grid for the 98th Indianapolis 500 on Sunday when positions 10-33 will be completed in a four-lap, one qualification attempt session beginning at 11 a.m. Eastern Time. The prestigious Indianapolis 500 Pole position will be determined in the Fast Nine at 2 p.m.
During his flight back to North Carolina, Busch found time to contemplate his day and take a quick nap on the private Cessna airplane.
It had already been a long day and Saturday night's All-Star Race had yet to start.
"I've qualified Pro Stocks on the quarter-mile; I've done the longest track on the NASCAR circuit (Talladega) but to do four laps here on a 2.5-mile track, that’s a 10-mile run,"Busch said. "That’s the longest I've had to focus for a qualifying run. Just the shear excitement of trusting a car with downforce going down into Turn 1 at 230 is indescribable.
"Those four laps felt like one; 230 is a totally different game. I wasn’t as focused as I needed to be; the moment of Indy can kind of overtake you. It was a very solid run; I was hoping for more. I didn’t keep up with the adjustments in the car. Those guys at Andretti Auto sport have given me a great car.
"I have to head to Charlotte by 3 p.m. I’ve got to be able to start the Charlotte race -- there's a million bucks down there. It's been an experience, the month of May in an Indy car. It’s really hard to digest at all. The chance to qualify is one thing but to do it in an Andretti car is another."
What has made Busch's Indianapolis 500 effort so impressive is the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion has done it with relative ease. He has been among the fastest drivers ever since he arrived for Indianapolis 500 practice and quickly gained the respect of the regular Verizon IndyCar Series competitors.
"The qualifying run I made felt very comfortable, maybe that's why it wasn't as good as I had hoped," Busch said. "Maybe I was conservative with the car instead of edgy. I have to thank Andretti Autosport and Suretone for making all this happen; those guys have been great to partner up with and run a big advertising campaign around the Indy 500."
After Busch's first attempt, the man leading his operation at Andretti Autosport made his intentions known.
"If it were up to me I would want to make another attempt," Hampson said. "But Kurt has to leave for the NASCAR race ... I know that we have more speed left in Kurt's car because I think we left a little on the table. But the important thing is giving Kurt a good race car for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway more so than in qualifications."
So Busch quickly posed for photos, went though the television bullpen in Victory Lane and gave a short media interview in the Trackside Conference Center before wheeling off on a golf cart back to the Andretti Autosport garage in Gasoline Alley.