Kurt Busch Goes for the "Double"

One NASCAR driver takes on the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day

Memorial Day weekend is the highlight of the auto racing calendar, as three of motorsports’ premier races — the Indianapolis 500, NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600, and Formula One’s Grand Prix of Monaco — are all contested on the same day. This year, NASCAR’s Kurt Busch plans to be behind the wheel for two of them.
 
For much of its 103-year history the Indianapolis 500 has attracted drivers from various forms of racing who are lured to the magical Indianapolis Motor Speedway to compete in the world’s biggest, most prestigious and celebrated race. But competing in the Indy 500 has been nearly impossible for NASCAR and Formula One drivers because of scheduling and logistical conflicts. 
 
It’s been 10 years since a driver has attempted to do the “Double” by running both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600, and Robby Gordon’s 2004 attempt was foiled by rain at Indy. 
 
Busch, the 2004 NASCAR Cup Series champion, will become the first driver since Gordon to attempt to run the Indy 500 and the Coke 600 in the same day. He will make his first Indy 500 start in an Andretti Autosport Dallara/Honda before boarding a private aircraft and flying over 400 miles to Concord, N.C., to compete in the Coke 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway that night. 
 
It's a daunting logistical and physical challenge that extends beyond merely driving 1,100 miles in a single day and sharing two tracks with the world's best drivers.
 
“Different people have reached out to lend a hand and try to help with some of the logistics and the planning,” Busch says. “It’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m really excited about this. And the challenge of the car itself, of getting in the car, getting settled and comfortable and balancing the IndyCar practice sessions along with my duties in the Cup car.”
 
Busch’s quest to complete 1,100 miles in two races in one day is greatly aided by his Sprint Cup team owner Tony Stewart — a driver who did the “Double” twice in his career. Stewart's most successful effort came in 2001, when he finished sixth in the Indy 500 and third in the 600, completing all 600 laps of the two contests.
 
“With Tony and his people that have experienced this before, they have been wonderful,” Busch says. “It’s great to have him involved and his blessing to do it and their people on planning.”
 
In 1994, John Andretti became the first driver to delve into "Double Duty" when he finished 10th at Indy and 36th at Charlotte. Gordon has had mixed results in his five tries. Stewart was impressive in his two Memorial Day Doubles.
 
The difference, however, is that all three began their career as IndyCar drivers. Busch is the first true NASCAR driver with no previous IndyCar experience to attempt to run the Indy 500 since Neil Bonnett in 1979. Bonnett was up to speed in practice but blew an engine on the morning of pole qualifying. The following weekend, rain complicated his schedule, and he decided to withdraw from Indy.
 
NASCAR’s Donnie Allison finished fourth in the 1970 Indy 500 and won the World 600 the following day.
“A lot of people in NASCAR are eagerly anticipating and interested in seeing how I do up there,” Busch says. “Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been thumbs up, and my little brother, Kyle, has been talking about it. It’s been great support all the way around. I’m really excited about it.”
 
Sprint Cup drivers get the opportunity to compete at Indy every year in the Brickyard 400, but driving an IndyCar on the hallowed track is a different animal. It’s one thing to play football at Yankee Stadium but another to play baseball at that venue. 
 
Busch has competed at Indy in the NASCAR Brickyard 400 13 times. It was a sense of awe, though, when he drove an IndyCar at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in preparation for the Indy 500.
 
“It definitely was a new appreciation for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and it gives you this feeling of history and the lineage of how open-wheel race cars have evolved over the last 100 years,” Busch says. “It was a whole new respect for the track and the IndyCar racing world as we know about IndyCars in today’s day and age.”
 
This year, Busch adds his name to that impressive history at the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
—Bruce Martin
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