Kurt Busch flashed weary eyes as he walked out to his Andretti Autosport Dallara/Honda IndyCar at the end of the tech line Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
It was understandable. The 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion had made two qualification attempts at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday before he had to fly to Concord, N.C., to participate in qualifications followed by the Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Rather than fly back to Indianapolis early Sunday morning following the late Saturday night wrapup of the all-star race, Busch and his girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll, decided to spend the night in the CMS infield and fly back to Indianapolis later Sunday morning after catching some sleep.
It wasn’t that much later, though.
After a departure of 6:15 a.m. from the Concord Regional Airport, Busch was back in the IndyCar for another practice session that began at 8:45 a.m. ET. That was followed by qualifying later in the morning when Busch’s four-lap average speed of 230.782 mph was good enough to place him 12th on the starting grid for next Sunday’s Indianapolis 500, on the outside of Row 4.
After two qualification attempts of four laps each on Saturday, Busch had to do it all over again on Sunday to earn his starting position in the 98th Indy 500. He was the first driver outside the "Fast Nine" when Saturday’s qualifications ended at 5:50 p.m. and he already bemoaned the fact he wasn’t at Indy to race his way back in to the fast group of drivers that would determine the pole.
"If I had it all to do over again, I would have stayed in Indy until the end of Saturday’s qualifications and missed the drivers’ meeting for the All-Star Race," Busch said. "I really wanted in that ‘Fast Nine’ and I should have stayed and made another attempt."
Busch was confident he was fast enough on Sunday that he would have given it a fight for the pole position, which was won by Ed Carpenter for the second-straight year when he blistered the 2.5-mile oval with a four-lap average of 231.067 miles per hour in a Dallara/Chevrolet.
Busch’s fastest lap in the Sunday morning practice session was 231.775 mph.
Because he was the 10th fastest driver on Saturday, Busch was the last of the drivers to make an attempt on Sunday that would determine positions 10-33 in the Indy 500. Juan Pablo Montoya of Team Penske would be the fastest driver in that session with the fastest lap of the month up to that point – 231.540 mph — and a four-lap qualification average of 231.007 mph.
Busch was the third driver to go out after Montoya and ran four-lap average of 230.782 mph — good enough for the outside of Row 4.
"I was hoping to hang on to that fourth row," Busch said. "I was going up against guys like Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon and Juan Pablo Montoya and Ryan Hunter-Reay, a teammate of mine. Those are all guys that deserve to be in the Fast Nine. I was hoping Saturday we would hang on to that Fast Nine. There would have been a lot less pressure today. We would have taken out all the drag and all the trim and we would have been on edge to see what we could do in the final nine and the worst-case scenario I would have been ninth.
"Today, it was about protecting Row 4 and we were able to do that."
Busch compared the difference in feel from the IndyCar to the stock car to "having a sports car and the other is a workload truck."
"It’s a matter of respect for that individual vehicle," Busch said. "When I released the clutch in the stock car, the car didn’t want to move — where in the IndyCar you dump the clutch and immediately take off."
He said it was important on Saturday, however, to do a trial run of getting between the two tracks on the same day because that timing is very important when he competes in both races next Sunday.
"It was a good exercise yesterday to have the helicopters and plane rides back and forth on the same day," Busch said. "I felt like a rally racer on my qualifying attempt for the All-Star Race. I’ll never be able to duplicate a day like that in a race car every again other than next Sunday to run in the ‘Greatest Spectacle in Racing’ in the Indianapolis 500 and then finishing it off with the Coca Cola 600."
When Busch made his return to Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday, he was immediately quizzed by an impressive group of NASCAR drivers who wanted to know all about his Indy 500 experience.
"Everybody is curious and wants to know what it feels like and drives like," Busch said. "Guys like Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jimmie Johnson and (Saturday) night’s winner, Jamie McMurray. It’s very difficult to explain 230 to a guy that has to wrestle a stock car around every day."
Next Sunday, the challenge becomes even greater when Busch tries to manage 1,100 miles between two great races at two different tracks.
"I hope to protect my car the first third of the Indy 500," Busch said. "Step two is settling in and applying the knowledge of the race and then finish up strong. I’m probably only going to run the Indy 500 once so I need to give it my all. When I get to Charlotte, I realize I won’t be at my best for the 600 but I need to pull it in and pull it in deep to give it my best effort.
"When I think about falling out of the seat at the 600, I’m going to dig deep and give it all that I’ve got."