As Kurt Busch’s date with history edges closer, so far the veteran racer has risen up to every challenge that he’s been confronted with as he pursues his dream. But he knows only too well that his next challenge will be by far the biggest to date.
On Sunday, Busch will attempt to become only the second driver to complete all 1,100 miles in the Indianapolis 500/Coca-Cola 600 double in the same day, joining his boss at Stewart-Haas Racing, Tony Stewart, who did it in 1999 and 2001. Robby Gordon and John Andretti also attempted the double, but neither driver completed the full distance.
Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Busch appeared calm and confident, ready to put the final stamp on what has been a complicated, challenging and ultimately rewarding process. Busch will start the Indy 500 on the outside of Row 4, flanked by Scott Dixon and Juan Pablo Montoya, both past winners of the event.
There is no question that Busch has thought about this weekend and his potential place in motorsports history along with it.
"Memorial Day weekend is a time for motorsports to shine," Busch said. "It starts with Monaco (Formula One). It goes through Indy and it ends here in Charlotte. I’m doing this for a lot of different reasons, but at the end of the day I think motorsports can use the shot in the arm to go, ‘You know what this is? A guy that has never been in an Indy car. We want to watch that race, then we want to follow him to Charlotte to see what he can do down there running that full 600 miles.’"
It’s also clear that Busch views Sunday as the culmination of an enormous challenge that few have the wherewithal and the means to undertake in the first place.
"I’m a racer. Tony Stewart is a racer, Robby Gordon is a racer and John Andretti is a racer," said Busch. "This is a true test of what your commitment level is on being a racer. There are so many practices back and forth, the travel, the logistics. The fun meter is pegged right now. I’m having a blast doing it; you just have to know it comes with a lot of hard work. I encourage others to try it out."
Busch has an enormous amount of support from his peers.
"My take on what Kurt is doing as a race fan is that it’s awesome," said Jamie McMurray, winner of last Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte. "I can’t wait to get up Sunday morning, turn the Indy 500 on and watch Kurt’s day. We can all remember Tony (Stewart) and Robby Gordon did it and watching those guys to see how their races goes, them getting on the helicopter — and then to show up and race here. I’m excited about it, and I hope other fans — whether you’re and IndyCar fan or a NASCAR fan — are excited to watch his whole day as well. I think it’s really cool what he’s doing."
"I’m proud of Kurt," said six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson. "He’s doing an awesome job."
Busch had one moment of drama earlier this week, crashing his primary car during practice Monday at Indy, but Johnson didn’t see that as a negative, nor did Busch.
"He’s put up a lot of speed and fast laps over there and has even found a limit," said Johnson of Busch. "That’s something you need to do. It’s better to tear them up in practice than on race day. I’m looking forward to the 500 and hopefully he has a great showing."
"It might sound stupid, by saying that I’m glad I wrecked at 220 miles per hour," Busch said. "But if I didn’t put myself in that position I would have done that on Sunday possibly 50 laps into the race. That is how you have to advance through life is to learn from your mistakes."
So now, it’s game on for Busch, time to take center stage, and all eyes will be upon him Sunday.
"I can’t wait to watch and pull for him," said Dale Earnhardt Jr. "He’s representing the entire sport. 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. He’s definitely put in a strong effort to make a different impression. I have to hand it to him. He’s done a lot of work."