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Commentary Open Wheel

EMBURY: Indy 500 Grid-a-tology Version 1.0

With 30 confirmations and at least two more likely soon, it is time to rate the 101st Indianapolis 500 field.
 
The purpose of Indianapolis 500 Grid-a-tology is to give an idea on who’s trending upward in the battle for being Firestone Fast Nine eligible.
 
One month out from opening weekend at Indy, there is an increasing bias toward anyone featuring a Honda engine and aero kit. Although Chevrolet has normally trumped Honda since Dallara’s DW12 debuted in 2012, Honda took pole position last year with James Hinchcliffe. Add to that, HPD has opened 2017’s Verizon IndyCar Series season with two victories.
 
So as you will notice, the upper half of list number one is full of Hondas. Chevrolet still could be heard from, yet most of the burden could be placed on Team Penske’s quintet, unless former back-to-back pole winners Ed Carpenter Racing make some progress at the Phoenix Grand Prix later this month.
 
NOTE: Drivers yet to be officially confirmed, are listed in parentheses.
 
FRONT ROW
 
Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing: It is almost laughable to consider that Dixon and CGR have failed to advance to Pole Day Shootout phase of qualifying at Indy in two of last three years. The Iceman did win the 500 pole two years ago, but remember that due to a safety concern, the cars were run in race trim. The resume does not release confidence, but Honda’s early wins are enough to place the New Zealander in P1 for now.
 
James Hinchcliffe, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Hinch unleashed required pace when it mattered in 2016 and the gap between Honda and Chevrolet seems to be widening further from last year’s perceived edge. While odds are stacked against his teammates’ chances to join him in Firestone Fast Nine, the Mayor should play a role when the shootout begins.
 
Josef Newgarden, Team Penske: When practice opens, Newgarden will have had five starts with Penske under his belt, enough to remove nerves and gain a necessary focus. The Dallara he will use this year should be better than what ECR gave him a year ago when he qualified second. The key factor, will be whether Chevrolet can hold a candle to Honda.
 
ROW 2
 
Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport: Hard to fathom how Andretti Autosport has been unable to earn a pole position at Indy since 2005. RHR has made front row twice during the DW12 era and probably rates as best chance to challenge for pole position.
 
Tony Kanaan, Chip Ganassi Racing: TK was a regular front two rows qualifier for several years at Indy, but has struggled to regain his magic touch during the current decade. Could be projecting him a little high here, but we will see things play out during practice week.
 
Helio Castroneves, Team Penske: The most successful pole day among active drivers, yet three-time Indy 500 champion has struggled to make front row recently. Always a factor during qualifying weekend, so it is impossible to ignore him.
 
ROW 3
 
Alexander Rossi, Andretti Herta Autosport: Defending Indianapolis 500 champion should have made Firestone Fast Nine last year. Early fast run, plus an extension of Saturday qualifying by one hour knocked him out in final moments. Should be a greater threat with one year of experience.
 
Will Power, Team Penske: Lack of pace from Chevrolet, coupled with bad returns at Long Beach raise some concerns. Scratch latter issue and Power would be Penske’s best chance to win pole position next month.
 
Marco Andretti, Andretti Autosport: 2006 Indy 500 runner-up fought hard to earn a Firestone Fast Nine spot last year but ultimately fell short. More muscle under cowling could be what is needed to make the shootout.
 
ROW 4
 
Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske: Pagenaud sneaked into final qualifying phase last year, but may not be as fortunate with Chevrolet more vulnerable in the speed department. Regardless, it is tough to get five or six cars from one team in the shootout.
 
Takuma Sato, Andretti Autosport: Few get as close to touching the wall as this Japanese veteran does. However, he now has a car capable of reaching Firestone Fast Nine. That at least puts him in range.
 
Mikhail Aleshin, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Last second run put him in position for the pole last year, but stronger challenges from both Ganassi and Andretti once again makes a first three rows appearance a long shot.
 
ROW 5:
 
Fernando Alonso, Andretti Autosport: It is unfair to expect a top-nine effort from someone who has never driven an IndyCar this close to pole day. Even though Nigel Mansell managed to qualify eighth as a 500 rookie in 1993, the British Lion had more oval track testing miles than Alonso will have. This is around where Kurt Busch ended up three years ago and should be a realistic target for the McLaren F1 pilot.
 
Ed Carpenter, Ed Carpenter Racing: In 2013 and 2014, this guy was a top-nine lock. However, since his accident on pole day two years ago, Carpenter has failed to make an impact. While ECR gets most of its results on ovals, Chevrolet’s current handicap makes the task even tougher next month.
 
Sebastien Bourdais, Dale Coyne Racing: Unless Coyne makes a dent in qualifying for Phoenix, this is as good as it will get for Bourdais and DCR in time trial mode. If Bruno Junqueira and Justin Wilson could do no better than this, why will Bourdais?
 
ROW 6:
 
Juan Pablo Montoya, Team Penske: Unlike his teammates, qualifying has been an oil and water exercise for the Colombian. Inconsistent pace dashed hopes to make Firestone Fast Nine last year, and that was before a trash bag messed up his decent run one day later.
 
Carlos Munoz, A.J. Foyt Racing: Qualifying was kryptonite for Super Tex and company during the DW12 era and despite a go for broke style of Munoz, pieces are missing to allow for a realistic chance to make the top-nine cut.
 
Charlie Kimball, Chip Ganassi Racing: Has been a consistent top-ten finisher at Indy for CGR, but form has not transferred to qualifications. Despite featuring Honda power, a mid-field effort is expected.
 
ROW 7
 
Oriol Servia, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: 2011 Indy 500 front row starter has consistently outpaced his full-time teammate in qualifying and stands a good chance of doing so next month.
 
J.R. Hildebrand, Ed Carpenter Racing: Hand injury aside, it has been a rough return to full-time service for this Indy-specialist. Generally projects higher than here, but unknowns of Chevrolet’s pace are concerning.
 
Sage Karam, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing: Not a strong qualifier; however, Karam’s stock could rise with semi-teammate to compare information with. Would match qualifying run from 2015.
 
ROW 8
Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: The son of 1986 Indy 500 champion has yet to master four-lap qualifying and has wound up in the bottom of the starting grid as a result. At this point, out-running his teammate Servia would be a success.
 
Jack Harvey, Andretti Autosport: Good to see 2015 Indy Lights Presented By Cooper Tires runner-up in a car this month. While Andretti is a solid car provider, Harvey’s limited race participation will make it difficult to reach the top half.
 
Ed Jones, Dale Coyne Racing: Situation for the Dubai-based rookie is similar to Bourdais’. If DCR shows potential at Phoenix, row eight will not be Jones’ likely home. A spot higher up will be.
 
ROW 9
 
Max Chilton, Chip Ganassi Racing: Pole day accident last year, prevented him a chance to experience the full qualifying weekend. That could negatively impact his output in 2017.
 
Conor Daly, A.J. Foyt Racing: Does not have momentum on his side as was present last year. Early struggles with Foyt may continue into Indy 500 festivities.
 
Gabby Chaves, Harding Racing: Alliance with DRR and presence of team manager Larry Curry are nice to have, but low expectations are reasonable for any new team.
 
ROW 10
 
Pippa Mann, Dale Coyne Racing: If indeed DCR has upped its game, 2017 could be Mann’s best chance to line up higher on the starting grid, than she ever has before. Phoenix efforts from Bourdais and Jones will significantly influence thinking here.
 
Zach Veach, A.J. Foyt Racing: Indy Lights veteran finally gets a chance to race in IndyCar. Foyt’s early performances predict a tough road ahead though.
 
Jay Howard, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Long layoff for Howard regarding Indy 500 participation means he will likely be playing catch-up once practice opens next month.
 
ROW 11
 
(Kyle Kaiser), Juncos Racing: New team, plus a young driver. Cannot be expected to be a winning combination right out of the starting gate.
 
Buddy Lazier, Lazier Partners Racing: Loss of Larry Curry makes mission impossible even harder for family-run operation. Will be tough to avoid back of starting grid.
 
FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury
 
The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.
Categories
Formula One Open Wheel

Formula One Drivers Who Attempted The Indy 500

While it is unusual for an active Formula One driver to participate in the Indianapolis 500, several former contenders have made the trip with varied success.

The most discussed appearance came in 1993, when defending World Champion Nigel Mansell showed up with Newman-Haas Racing. The “British Lion” came to the U.S. after a nasty breakup with Williams F1. The IndyCar newcomer quickly became accustomed to his new surroundings, getting up to speed at Indy despite having never participated in an oval track race.

After qualifying eighth, Mansell quickly moved toward the front on race day. He first took the lead on Lap 56, and despite missing his pit box near halfway, the British star stayed among the topfive. Late in the race, Mansell used a breathtaking outside pass to lead with 20 laps to go. Holding off Emerson Fittipaldi and Arie Luyendyk, it appeared Mansell was destined to become the first rookie to win since Graham Hill in 1966.

However, another caution erased Mansell’s lead and set up another restart. Inexperience denied the newcomer a win as Fittipaldi and Luyendyk outfoxed the Indy novice, dropping him from first to third. Mansell then survived a late race brush with the outside wall to maintain third-place and take Rookie of the Year honors.

The following year, despite dominance from Penske-Mercedes’ duo of Al Unser, Jr. and Fittipaldi, Mansell started to pose a threat for victory once again near the halfway mark. Sadly, the British driver failed to capitalize on the momentum as a freak accident during a caution flag with Dennis Vitolo ended his day.

Also making an appearance in the same 1993 event where Mansell made his debut was three-time F1 world champion Nelson Piquet. The 77th Indianapolis 500 would be the Brazilian’s second attempt, after suffering serious leg injuries in a testing crash the year before. Unfortunately for Piquet, race day in 1993 was also a limited exercise, as a blown engine relegated him to 32nd.

Following Mansell and Piquet’s efforts, a few drivers who enjoyed some success in Formula One took their shots at the Brickyard. Among them, Eddie Cheever added his face to the Borg-Warner Trophy after winning in 1998.

Through this decade, the most recognizable Formula One participant was ex-Scuderia Ferrari driver Rubens Barrichello. Despite initially agreeing to only run road courses for KV Racing in the 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series season, he had a change of heart and showed up at Indy alongside teammate and good friend Tony Kanaan. Quietly consistent all month, Barrichello just missed out on making the Pole Day shootout and qualified tenth. On race day, Barrichello drove conservatively to finish 11th and secure Rookie of the Year honors.

Stay tuned to Popular Speed for more historical memories on the road to the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel

Indy 500 Silly Season Update

The path toward a 33-car field for the 101st Indianapolis 500 has continued to provide interesting storylines.

However, the biggest one to date came on Wednesday morning, when Andretti Autosport confirmed their sixth entry. In partnership with McLaren F1. Fernando Alonso will skip the Monaco Grand Prix to participate. The former world champion becomes the first active Formula 1 driver to try his luck at Indy since Mario Andretti in 1981.

This move is also notable since it represents an 18th Honda-powered entry in the field. The manufacturer reportedly will not provide any more lease deals, a bad sign for a possible partnership that could have involved Sam Schmidt and Will Marotti. It does not remove Marotti completely from rumors, but if God Bless America Racing wants a place on the grid, their hopes now rest with Chevrolet.

Here is the current projection of how things could shape up for the 101st Indianapolis 500.

Team Penske: Simon Pagenaud, Josef Newgarden, Helio Castroneves, Will Power, Juan Pablo Montoya

The Captain will enter five cars at the Speedway for the first time, and all drivers have been confirmed.

Chip Ganassi Racing: Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball

Four full-time runners on the Verizon IndyCar Series circuit and nothing is expected to change for one race.

Andretti Autosport: Takuma Sato, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Jack Harvey, Fernando Alonso

Harvey’s deal involving Michael Shank Racing appeared to be the final piece for Andretti’s Indy 500 efforts. That is until McLaren decided to join the fun, giving Fernando Alonso a shot at Indy. The six-car team is the largest at the Brickyard since Andy Evans’ Team Scandia provided seven in 1996.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: James Hinchcliffe, Mikhail Aleshin, Jay Howard

The Alonso to Andretti deal probably ends any chance of Will Marotti partnering with Sam Schmidt for a second consecutive year. Still, Schmidt features a strong three-car lineup.

Dale Coyne Racing: Sebastien Bourdais, Ed Jones, Pippa Mann

Three-car entry pretty much set in stone, unless additional Honda engine leases pop up.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: Graham Rahal, Oriol Servia

The Ohio-based runners are set for May with a two-car entry, as has often been the case since its return to the full IndyCar circuit in 2012.

Ed Carpenter Racing: Ed Carpenter, J.R. Hildebrand

As mentioned above, ECR will only enter two cars at Indy next month. Spencer Pigot has been given the okay to seek another ride for the 500, but could be on standby if J.R. Hildebrand is not cleared to compete. The 2011 runner-up suffered a broken hand last weekend at Long Beach.

A.J. Foyt Racing: Conor Daly, Carlos Munoz, Zach Veach, TBA?

Zach Veach was confirmed as Foyt’s third driver last weekend at Long Beach. They could also add a fourth car to complete the field if needed

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing: Sage Karam, Gabby Chaves

Harding Racing confirmed its formation and technical alliance with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing earlier this week. 2015 Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves will drive with Larry Curry managing the operation.

Juncos Racing: Kyle Kaiser?, TBA?

If Kyle Kaiser is indeed one of the team’s two drivers, a confirmation should come soon. The Rookie Orientation Program at Indianapolis Motor Speedway takes place later this month, and participation is mandatory. The team has also been considering a veteran driver with Sebastian Saavedra’s name being mentioned from a few inside sources.

Lazier Partners Racing: Buddy Lazier

Bob Lazier says plans are to return in some form at Indy this May. His son, 1996 Indy 500 champion Buddy Lazier is likely to handle the driving duties once again.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Busch Focused on Chase but Open to Indy 500 Return

By Matt Weaver — @KurtBusch created a memory that he has said will last forever when he competed in the Indianapolis 500 this past May, finishing sixth in The Greatest Spectacle in Racing. On Sunday at Watkins Glen, Busch reaffirmed his desire to give it a second shot.

The Outlaw finished third in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen, establishing momentum for his second-consecutive Chase berth. While focused on the remainder of the season and his attempt to win a second Sprint Cup championship, Busch made no secret of his desire to return to Indianapolis next May.

“It’s a bit too early,” Busch said of how close he is to announcing his Indianapolis return. “Right now, our focus is the Chase and trying to keep others from punching their ticket to get in. Today (AJ) Allmendinger got in. We don’t have much news.

“But let’s see how their season ends and how our season goes. Right now I’m focused on this No. 41 car to run for the championship.”

Busch has had a dreadful season of sorts, currently running 23rd in the championship standings in his first season at Stewart Haas Racing and with first year crew chief Daniel Knost. He has a 20.1 average finish after 22 races but locked himself into the Chase earlier this season with a victory at Martinsville.

As a result, Busch has a fresh start approaching once the Chase begins at Chicagoland Speedway next month.

As for his IndyCar experience, team owner Michael Andretti has repeatedly said that he wants Busch back next season if the logistics can pan out. He believes that a second consecutive year of running in the 500-mile Race would establish Busch as one of the favorites.

For his part, Busch is definitely interested.

“I’d like to do it,” he said. “We’ll see how it pans out.”

Busch Enjoyed the Allmendinger, Ambrose Duel

Kurt Busch joked during the post-race press conference on Sunday afternoon that he wished Marcos Ambrose had tried to wreck AJ Allmendinger for the win. After all, if something had happened to both leaders, Busch would have become the beneficiary.

That would have translated his podium into a possible second victory on the season and padding towards the Chase for the Championship. As it stands, Busch enjoyed the view of two of the best road course racers in the world going head-to-head at the historic upstate New York speedway.

“I really thought they did a phenomenal job to beat the heck out of each other and maintain a pace that didn’t allow me to get close enough,” Busch said. “There was just one moment I had, I wanted to go low on the back straightaway. It would have been three-wide, and my right sides would have been in the grass, and I couldn’t quite make it getting into the bus stop (chicane) to clear those two.

“It was just a phenomenal show. Those two deserve a lot of credit. Allmendinger brought home the trophy, and he deserves it. Ambrose gave everything he could. I was just hoping that, yes, those two would get a bit overzealous, and I’d be able to squeak by them and pick up the win for our team.”

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Kurt Busch Crashes in Indy 500 Practice

By Matt Weaver (SPEEDWAY, Ind.) Kurt Busch crashed into the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier during Monday practice for the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The car just appeared to step out from under him and Busch was unable to make the correction before slamming into the wall.

The car caught fire and shattered into pieces but Busch walked away safely and has been cleared to drive by IndyCar’s medical staff. His next appearance in the car will likely be on Friday during the final practice as part of Carburation Day activities.

The 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion said he was starting to feel comfortable in his DW12 Honda, in a larger group of cars, and merely let his guard down.

“You have to keep track of where you are at all times and the adjustments in the car,” Busch said afterwards. “Maybe I just didn’t keep up with keeping the car underneath me. Trying to get into that rhythm and feel other things around you and I got behind on my adjustments in the car.”

Busch conceded that it was better for him to crash today than during the race itself but admitted that he felt bad for his crew who will have to hastily repair his car in advance of Friday. He was focused on working the draft and believes he just made a rookie mistake.

“As a rookie, there’s things you learn and put it up on the edge and get away with and then there’s times when it will bite you,” Busch said. “It’s just tough. I thought I was finding a rhythm and settling into that long run type pace and learning the tows and the draft and I didn’t keep track of the adjustments of the car.”

As per the IndyCar rule book, Busch will be allowed to keep his 12th place starting position in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Busch learned a valuable lesson on Monday afternoon — on where the line that must not be crossed lies and hopefully how to avoid it on race day.

“It was 100 percent just working in traffic,” Busch said. “Just trying to settle in and not make mistakes and I just made a mistake.”

The Indianapolis 500 is set to begin at Noon on Sunday and will be televised on ABC. A video of his crash can be viewed below.

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Uncategorized

Kurt Busch Reflects on Indy 500 Saturday Qualifying

By Matt Weaver (SPEEDWAY, Ind.) — Kurt Busch fulfilled a lifelong dream on Saturday afternoon, officially qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 for Andretti Autosport.

Busch was safely inside the top-9 — those eligible for the Sunday pole position shootout — when he left for Charlotte Motor Speedway to compete in the All-Star Race. He was later bumped by Juan Pablo Montoya in the final hour of Saturday qualifying and ultimately finished the day in 10th.

As a result, Busch will come back on Sunday morning, looking to qualify anywhere from 10th-to-33rd.

All told, Busch now has the chance to win roughly $4 million in prize money over the next week as a result of chasing victories in the All-Star Race, Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 combined. It’s a fact not lost on the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.

“I’ve got to be able to start the Charlotte race,” Busch said. “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.”

Busch said that his two qualifying attempts, eight laps and 20 miles, was the most unnerving experience that he’s ever had in a race car and completely different from his qualifying experiences in NASCAR.

“If we end up outside of the top-9, I know I gave it my all and it was a really neat experience to go against the car myself and pick up speed,” Busch said before hopping on a plane for Charlotte. “The way you have to challenge a track for a NASCAR run is you have to have the most downforce and the car has to have to have the most grip level.

“Here at Indy, you take all the grip away and you take all the downforce — you make the car as uncomfortable as you can make it. And then they tack on three extra laps so you’re doing 10 miles.”

Now Busch travels to Charlotte where he hopes to start his official Double experience by winning the All-Star Race, an event he won back in 2010. Busch will again travel back on forth next Sunday when he attempts both the Greatest Spectacle in Racing and NASCAR’s longest race — the Coke 600.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

NASCAR Drivers Largely Uninterested in Running Indy 500

By Matt Weaver (TALLADEGA, Ala.) — Could the changes to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship format and possible success by Kurt Busch in the Indianapolis 500 entice more Stock Car drivers to try their hands at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing?

Not so fast says six-time and defending champion Jimmie Johnson who says that stock car drivers have always had the opportunity to attempt the May double but have ignored it largely out of apathy to open-wheel and Indy car style racing.

“I think the opportunity has been there and I’m not sure that a lot of stock car drivers have the desire to run open-wheel,” Johnson said. “That’s probably been the limiting factor. I know that at one point in time, manufacturers had supplier issues that prevented me from going. You can certainly get the sponsors and people to get everything approved.”

Johnson had long expressed an interest in competing in the Indy 500 and says the possibility remained strong up until he and his wife, Chandra, had children.

“In my situation, I have a wife that would have to approve me going to Indy,” Johnson said. “We had a deal that prior to having children, I could. And I didn’t get my opportunity before having kids.”

Johnson also says that the start times for the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 just make it especially difficult to run both races on one day. Sunday May 25 will be the busiest day of racing in North America with the Indy 500 starting at Noon and the Charlotte NASCAR race starting at 6 p.m.

“The start time was the big problem there,” Johnson said. “You couldn’t physically do both the way the start times worked out. I hope that encourages others. I think as a race fan, I look forward to that weekend to see who does the double and watch that much racing from Monaco all the way through to the NASCAR event.”

Johnson’s teammate, Kasey Kahne, cut his teeth in the competitive USAC open-wheel environment and always coveted a chance to compete in the Indianapolis 500. But his career took him towards full-bodied stock cars instead and now, Kahne believes there are just too many variables that work against Sprint Cup drivers who would want to compete amongst the fastest 33.

“I think it all kind of depends on where you’re at with the Sprint Cup Series, how you feel about it, what you’ve done in the Cup Series and how your sponsor and owner feel about it,” Kahne told Popular Speed on Friday. “There are so many things that would have to line up to do both races. I’m looking forward to watching Kurt.”

Kahne explained that he was always a fan of watching drivers like John Andretti, Tony Stewart and Robby Gordon attempt to run the double and believes that Kurt Busch has a legitimate shot to contend.

“I think it’s going to be great. He’s going to do a real good job in both races,” Kahne said. “You know, that’s kind of a dream of mine at times was to try to do the double and now to see Kurt do it would be pretty awesome.”

Joey Logano drives for Team Penske, one of the elite three organizations in the IndyCar Series, for their NASCAR operation. He doesn’t see a scenario, at least right now, where he would want to make that jump and try racing an IndyCar.

“Not in the near future,” Logano told Popular Speed. “I don’t see myself doing it. I won’t say never but not right now. It would be a distraction from what I’m trying to do on the Sprint Cup side and focusing on something that I may not even be good at.”

So unless Busch has overwhelming success and opens the floodgates, he may be the last active Cup driver for a while to attempt the Indianapolis 500. Kyle Larson and Ricky Stenhouse have left the door open but the same door is seemingly shut and locked amongst current veterans not named, ‘Busch.’

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattWeaverSBN

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Kurt Busch Indy 500 Paint Scheme Revealed

By Matt Weaver — Suretone Records will back Kurt Busch in his attempt to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 next month, Andretti Autosport announced on Monday while also unveiling the paint scheme that the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion will pilot during the month of May.

Busch will drive a gray and black No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda and hopes to become just the fourth driver to compete in the Memorial Day Weekend “Double” — the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 Sprint Cup Series event on the same day.

“It’s an exciting day,” Busch said. “Reality is setting in that this is real and it’s go time. For me, it’s a dream come true, but the kid in a candy store moment is all behind me. Now it’s the focus of practice time and settling in with Andretti Autosport. Just to have Andretti Autosport and to have Michael (Andretti) himself involved, this is the right way to do things. Their team experience will help lead my inexperience.”

MORE: IndyCar Paddock Prepares to Welcome Busch to Indianapolis

Despite ultimately losing the race to Tony Kanaan and KV Racing Technology last season, Andretti Autosport had the best overall team effort in last year’s running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. An Andretti rookie, Carlos Munoz, finished second in the race, adding credence to the belief that Busch can walk into Indianapolis Motor Speedway next month and contend for the win.

One of his teammates at Andretti, James Hinchcliffe, recently told Open Wheel Now that he believes Busch has a legitimate shot at winning the race, mostly due to the fact that he is in AA equipment.

“I think we’re going to be strong in the race and I think we’ve showed that the past couple of years,” Hinchcliffe said. “(Busch is) a professional. He has more professional races under his belt than the rest of the field combined with as many races as NASCAR runs and I’m sure he’s going to adapt pretty quickly.”

Busch is expected to make over 10 trips between Indianapolis and Charlotte over the next 30 days so he can practice and qualify for the Indianapolis 500 while also maintaining his busy NASCAR schedule. As for the race itself, Busch will start the 500-mile event (should he qualify, a near certainty) at noon ET in Indianapolis and have to be strapped into his Sprint Cup car, in Charlotte, before 6 p.m. ET for the Coca-Cola 600.

Suretone is relatively new music label and entertainment enterprise, founded in 2006, which handles a variety of different multimedia business ventures. It was founded by longtime Geffen Records president Jordan Schur.

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattWeaverSBN

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

IndyCar Paddock Prepares to Welcome Kurt Busch

By Matt Weaver (BIRMINGHAM, Ala.) — Kurt Busch is just a few weeks away from making his official debut in a practice session in an Indy car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. As a result, the rest of the IndyCar Series paddock is awaiting his arrival with both anticipation and excitement.

Busch is the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and will attempt to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 with Andretti Autosport, one of the IndyCar Series’ elite three operations alongside Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing.

One of his teammates, 2012 IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, has known Busch since he won his NASCAR championship back in 2004. The earnest Hunter-Reay is fan of Busch both inside and outside of the car and is fascinated by his intent to run both the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR race in Charlotte on the same day.

“For Kurt to do what he’s doing, it takes a lot of guts,” Hunter-Reay said. “To jump out of your Cup car and hop into an Indy car and immediately hop right back into a Cup car, I respect him for that.”

Hunter-Reay admitted that he wishes he had a chance to hop in a Sprint Cup Series car at some point down the line and also wanted to see NASCAR drivers try their hand at the competitive IndyCar road and street course offerings as well.

For Busch to have success during the month of May, Hunter-Reay says that Busch will have to enter Indianapolis with a completely open mind, disregarding all of his expectations from his NASCAR experience and Rookie Orientation test last season.

“I really think he’s going to have to approach it from a learning perspective with fresh eyes,” Hunter-Reay said. “He’s going to have to go into it clearing everything he knows about the place and work with his teammates…

“I expect things to go very smoothly. I also think it’s going to be tough at times. It won’t be tough the first few times in practice but once you get the cars with their maximum downforce settings and with 32 other cars on the track, that place is going to get real small, real quick.”

Another one of his Andretti teammates, James Hinchcliffe, says that he expects to warn Busch early on about the general instability of the cars in a larger pack. But he also believes that Busch’s longer race experience, with events like the Coca-Cola 600, will benefit him in terms of endurance and physicality.

More to the point, Hinchcliffe believes Busch is a legitimate contender for the win.

“He’s in an Andretti Autosport car so I definitely believe he can win,” Hinchliffe said. “I think we’re going to be strong in the race and I think we’ve showed the past couple of years.

“The biggest thing for Kurt is going to be learning what the cars are like in traffic because it’s one thing to drive around IMS on your own and it’s a whole other kettle of fish when you have 32 other guys out there. He’s a professional. He has more professional races under his belt than the rest of the field combined with as many races as NASCAR runs and I’m sure he’s going to adapt pretty quickly.”

JPMJuan Pablo Montoya, now with Team Penske’s IndyCar program, may be able to relate to Busch more than anyone else in the paddock. Despite winning his only start in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing back in 2000, Montoya has spent the last seven years in NASCAR and thought extensively about his own transition.

“Well the ovals are not that bad,” Montoya said. “It’s just about getting comfortable and understanding that if he moves it’s going to slip up the track. In a Cup car, if he moves, you’ve got to be on top of it but you’ve room for error — a lot more room and you just don’t have that here.”

Montoya’s teammate, Helio Castroneves, is a three-time winner of the event. More than anything else, Helio is excited to have the versatile Busch competing in IndyCar’s marquee event, believing that it serves as a confirmation that Indianapolis is the greatest event in racing.

“I’ll tell you what, I’m real excited to have him experience IndyCar — especially the Indy 500 because it’s an amazing event. It’s the best race in the world and everyone wants to be a part of it and I’m glad he does too.”

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

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