By Kelly Crandall (CONCORD, N.C.) – A once routine process for @KurtBusch when it came to making his way into the NASCAR garage ahead of the first practice has turned attention getting this past month.
Busch became the hot topic as he began his travels back and forth between NASCAR and the IndyCar Series in preparation for his Indianapolis 500 debut. This coming Sunday he’ll join just three others before him as a driver who has attempted the double, running 1100 miles in the same day between Indy and the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte.
Throughout the journey Busch has been welcomed with open arms in the IndyCar community while being the big topic in the NASCAR garage. From fellow drivers to crew chiefs, Busch is continually stopped, like Thursday, to talk about his foray into the open wheel world.
“Walking through the garage today it takes 20 minutes for me to go sign in and it’s not because of fans and autographs, even though they are there as well. It’s the other crew chiefs and the other drivers asking about it, wanting to know the difference and to live some of the experience with me,” Busch said. “Like Todd Berrier stopped me, @MaxPapis, he was very curious on the world that he has been in and come from. It’s just so excited to talk about it. It’s just still hard to put it all into words.”
The 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 is Sunday with Busch starting on the outside of the fourth row, 12th. Plenty of NASCAR and motorsports fans around the world will be tuned in for a full day of racing that starts with Formula 1 in Monaco and heads to Indianapolis before finishing in Charlotte. Busch’s peers will be no different.
“My take on what Kurt is doing as a race fan is that it’s awesome. I can’t wait to get up Sunday morning, turn the Indy 500 on and watch Kurt’s day,” said All-Star winner @JamieMcMurray. “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 – Kurt is actually flying on the plane that I fly on every weekend back down here – and then to show up and race here.
“I’m excited about it, and I hope other fans – whether you’re an 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.”
Sponsored by the National Guard since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, @DaleJr has become a face of military support. Busch has joined him recently through is work with the Armed Forces Foundation and by completing the double, he’s hoping to raise awareness for United States troops by way of the attention and recognition he has received this month. That, to Earnhardt Jr., is far more impressive than racing in two different series.
“I really like the work he is doing with the Armed Forces and it says a lot about what’s important to him more than anything he is doing on the race track. He’s doing some amazing work and making an impact,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “That’s doing a lot for him – like it matters – in my eyes. I respect him a lot more because of that. The racing thing … hell, we all like to race so I can understand his enjoyment of doing the Indy deal. I can’t wait to watch and pull for him.
“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.”
Whereas Busch is completing a dream for some drivers who have either an interest or a background in open wheel, six-time champion @JimmieJohnson can only watch from afar. Johnson had a deal with his wife Chandra that once they had children he would no longer have permission to go attempt the double. So he, like many others live through Busch’s experience.
And while he can’t take part in it, Johnson believes the door is now open for many to take an interest, which is great for motorsports in general. Of course, he’s also interested to watch Busch go from a high down force vehicle to a low down force vehicle in his No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet.
“I’m proud of Kurt. He’s doing an awesome job. He’s put up a lot of speed and fast laps over there and has even found a limit,” Johnson said. “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.”
Busch will practice and qualifying on Thursday ahead of Sunday night’s Coke 600. Backup driver @pkligerman (Parker Kligerman) will run a few laps on Saturday during the final few hours of practice before Busch heads to Indianapolis for the big day, and final weekend, with the Verizon IndyCar Series.
“I’ve had great teammates at Andretti Autosport to look at their notes. To have a team that has solid information to help me graduate as a driver through the different levels it’s been an amazing experience,” Busch said.
“It’s been a lot of fun and I can’t wait to get in the Cup car today and to finish this journey on Sunday with a strong 1100 miles.”
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