Categories
IndyCar

Simon Pagenaud Expects Sophomore Surge for Penske

Simon Pagenaud should feel like he has more pressure on his shoulders as the 2016 IndyCar Series season draws closer — especially after a winless debut with Team Penske.

Not so fast, apparently.

“I think I just feel better, actually,” Peagenaud said. “I feel more ready for the situation. I think last year there were so many unknowns, you know? I was coming from a team where I was number one for three years with great teammates, but it wasn’t like three teammates of the caliber of Montoya, Castroneves and Power.

“So all of a sudden, I stepped in a big organization without much testing, without knowing much. But now, I know where I stand. I know how to behave, I know what to say, and to be myself.  I feel confident because I know Roger [Penske] and Tim Cindric have full trust in me and that’s golden to me.”

As a result, Pegenaud says he’s both happy and excited and that bodes well for 2016. Last year was the first time Pagenaud has ever experienced a team with the resources of Penske and it took some adjusting for him to ultimately fit in. More to the point, Pagenaud said 2015 taught him a bunch of internal questions, rather than those about performance.

“To be myself, really,” Pagenaud said. “To be yourself and drive for yourself. Drive like you know how to drive and have a good time driving. I’m driving the best car in the paddock, I know it, it showed last year. The performance was there, and it’s about now, growing into my position.”

Pagenaud is in a very special club of drivers across Team Penske’s motorsports empire.  This year marks Penske’s 50th as a team, and coincidentally, it’s the same year as the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. As a result, winning the 500 would be even more special than usual for Team Penske and Pagenaud wants to be the man to deliver that victory to The Captain.

“It’s certainly going to be a huge year for us, 50 years, so obviously we want to do even better for Roger and make it a special year,” Pagenaud added. “He said he wants to win 20 Indy 500s, so that means we have to win another four. So that means we have to continue now, and I want to be the next one.

“Obviously it’s going to be a big, big year, but I like pressure. I like it, it helps me to perform even better.

EMAIL CHRISTOPHER AT christopherdeharde@gmail.com

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

Categories
XFINITY

Hinchcliffe Wants His Shot at the Challenge of NASCAR

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – James Hinchcliffe will return to the Verizon IndyCar Series full-time in 2016, but the self-proclaimed Mayor of Hinchtown is eyeing NASCAR as well.

Hinchcliffe, 28, was in attendance at Homestead-Miami Speedway this weekend for Jeff Gordon’s final NASCAR race. But the four-time IndyCar Series winner was also in the ear of any car owner he came across, looking to put a deal together for him to get behind the wheel of a stock car in the very near future. An XFINITY Series car to be exact, as Hinchcliffe would love to run at Watkins Glen.

“Great track, obviously, and super close to Canada,” Hinchcliffe explained to POPULAR SPEED. “So there’s some opportunity to get some more Canadian fans down, maybe bring in some Canadian sponsors. So for me that makes the most sense to start there but we race at Road America, and we race at Mid-Ohio so there’s no reason why those two also wouldn’t make sense. I’m happy to do all three if there’s the opportunity.”

So enamored with the idea, Hinchcliffe isn’t ashamed to have others help spread the word. That includes on social media where a #GetHinchToTheGlen campaign has broken out. It all helps fuel his desire, which he found flare back up this summer.

In May, Hinchcliffe nearly died at Indianapolis Motor Speedway when he crashed during practice for the Indianapolis 500, a piece of suspension piercing his leg. The injury took him out of competition for the remainder of the season, which ended up allowing him the time to attend NASCAR’s Brickyard 400. The IndyCar schedule occasionally conflicts with the NASCAR weekend, or Hinchcliffe, who has lived in Indianapolis for seven years, decides not to spend his free time at a racetrack.

This year, he made the trek for the very first time and was given a new appreciation for the sport.

“It’s always been something that I was curious about because I watched a lot of really good open wheel guys come over and it gave me an appreciation for how tough it must be over here,” Hinchcliffe said. “Because I’ve raced against these guys enough I know how talented they are, and they struggle when they first come (to NASCAR). As a competitor, that challenge interests me and it intrigues me.”

Sam Hornish Jr. is the most recent defect from the open wheel world. Hornish competed full-time in the Sprint Cup Series this year for Richard Petty Motorsports and finished 26th in points. Unfortunately, Hornish appears without a ride for next season.

There was also the seven years Juan Pablo Montoya put it at the highest level before going back to IndyCar. Dario Franchitti tried his hand in 2007-2008, but his NASCAR career ended after a broken leg in an XFINITY race at Talladega. Jacques Villeneuve has also come and gone. Danica Patrick’s full-time NASCAR career began in 2012, and she has since moved into the Sprint Cup Series but has yet to find her footing.

The list goes on of IndyCar drivers taking a shot in NASCAR. A.J. Foyt and Tony Stewart were successful in their attempts, but the list of accomplished open wheel drivers who couldn’t figure out stock cars is longer. Even still, Hinchcliffe admits just getting the opportunity to try is appealing to many drivers.

“I think a lot of us grew up idolizing the guys like Mario (Andretti) and A.J. (Foyt), who raced everything and won in everything and that doesn’t really exist in the same respect anymore,” Hinchcliffe said. “But I think guys really like that idea. We’re all racers – if it’s got four wheels and an engine we’ll probably try and go fast in it.

“I do sports car racing as well. I want to do it all. (NASCAR) is obviously one of the top levels of motorsports on earth and so to try and get in on that and try to experience that is par for the course in a driver’s mind. It’s wanting to try your hand in everything.”

Seeing all those who have come before and failed doesn’t deter Hinchcliffe in the slightest. In fact, it helped him make a game plan of how he wants to approach it. Hinchcliffe admitted he was going to “cheat a little bit” by starting on a road course, which open wheel drivers have faired well at.

“It makes me want to do it more, it really does. That’s probably crazy,” he said of seeing the struggle. “It’s not to try and prove that I’m better than those guys or anything like that; I like a challenge. I’m curious as to know what is so different that makes it such a challenge.”

In 2013, NASCAR was close to seeing Hinchcliffe in the field, as he put a deal together that ended just short of making it on track.

“It was done. It was done. I had a car, team, sponsor,” Hinchcliffe emphatically said. “It was the first time in the history of racing that a sponsor wanted to pay money to do something, and somebody was like, no. My employer at the time didn’t think it was a good idea, which is really unfortunate because it was a great idea.

“It was done. The deal was done, and the sponsor was flabbergasted and quite put off that it all got shut down because that’s the hardest part, is finding the money, and we had that. So that was disappointing but also motivated me to try harder to make it work.”

The three-day weekend in Homestead provided Hinchcliffe another chance to plant the seed. And he spent plenty of time doing so, even getting a chance to promote the cause during NBCSN’s television coverage. Good practice for the next time he’s in a NASCAR garage and hopefully talking about his racecar.

“I’ve got down time, the timing is perfect, and it wouldn’t interfere with anything,” Hinchcliffe said. “That’s the goal. The goal is to get to the Glen. We do that we can build from there.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KellyCrandall

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, it’s owners, management or staff. 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 Posts Top-10 in Indianapolis 500 Debut

By Matt Weaver (SPEEDWAY, Ind.) — Kurt Busch did more than just complete all 200 laps on Sunday in the Indianapolis 500. He evolved and ultimately thrived, contending in the closing stages of the race and finished sixth in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Busch started the race 12th but fell back as low as 20th under green flag conditions in an effort to understand the big pack racing he would endure for the next two hours.

It was important for Busch to take a conservative approach early on due to a practice crash on Monday afternoon that destroyed his primary car and perhaps his newfound comfort in the DW12 chassis. But Busch had returned to 17th by lap 100 and methodically began picking off drivers under green and avoiding the accidents that developed in front of him.

Busch was seventh on the final

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restart with seven laps to go and finished sixth when all was said and done, an impressive feat for a driver making his first career open-wheel start.

“What an unbelievable experience,” Busch said after the race. “It was a dream come true to drive an Andretti Autosport car at Indy. I’m sure the car was a top-5 car. I was on edge on those final two restarts, making adjustments, trying to find air. I had to lift a little in Turn 2 all day. All in all, I’m very pleased.”

Busch immediately made a beeline towards a helicopter that transported him to Charlotte and the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. While in transit, he received an IV treatment of fluids and attempted to nap before NASCAR’s longest event.

His car owner, Michael Andretti, spoke to Busch before he left and said that he exceeded all expectations as a first-time participant in the discipline’s most demanding event.

“I saw him real quick on the way to his plane and I told that I was proud to have him with us this month,” Andretti said. “Hats off to him — he did a really good job. He came in here with the right mindset of a rookie. Like I said, he went to school and was a great student.”

Andretti said that Busch left Indianapolis proud but wishing he could have done more than his sixth-place feat, especially driving for the team that won the race on Sunday with Ryan Hunter-Reay.

“He told me in the end he thought he had a car capable of doing better, but for a rookie driver, I told him that he had nothing to be ashamed of. You had a great month and it was a pleasure having you on our team.

“I think everyone on the team liked having him and maybe we’ll do it again sometime.”

The 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion will now attempt to become just the second driver to complete all 1100 miles of the Indianapolis/Charlotte Double should he successfully finish on the lead lap of Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600. Busch’s NASCAR team owner, Tony Stewart, was the first, finishing sixth at Indy and third at Charlotte back in 2001.

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.

Categories
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

Indy 500: Kurt Busch Practices in a Draft for First Time

By Matt Weaver (SPEEDWAY, Ind.) Kurt Busch made his official IndyCar debut in the opening practice session for the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday afternoon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Busch spent parts of last season and last week completing his Rookie Orientation Program but had not turned a lap with more than a single car on the track until Sunday. Busch spent much of the day practicing in the dirty air with his Andretti Autosport teammates, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Carlos Munoz and EJ Viso, the latter who was substituting for the injured James Hinchcliffe.

Busch logged 31 laps on Sunday, posting his fastest speed (220.352 mph) during his 29th circuit. It should be worth noting that the cars are not yet ‘trimmed down’ and speeds will increase as teams approach qualifying this weekend. All told, the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion was just grateful to have experienced champions and contenders as teammates as he looks to acclimate from Stock Cars to Open Wheels during the month of May.

“It was a nice rookie day to go play in traffic,” Busch said. “The Andretti Autosport guys ramped up where we are with the levels, to get in dirty air. Today was a nice shakedown, and the second run was a baseline run.  It was nice to have a champion, Ryan Hunter-Reay, take me around, and then with Munoz and E.J. Viso. It’s just neat to move to the next step, which is to go out there in dirty air and draft with teammates.”

Busch, who has professionally raced Stock Cars for his entire career says the main difference in an Indy car is just how much quicker things happen, from overtaking to losing control of his car.

“At 220 things are moving quick, but it’s a lot of fun,” Busch said. “Today I can draw a checkmark through the day as a successful rookie day in playing with dirty air. The next day we have to advance that, and the next day we have to advance it again. Thursday we’re going to look at taking downforce off the car to get into qualifying mode. We’ll see how it all pans out.”

Busch had hoped to make his IndyCar debut last season during the season finale at Auto Club Speedway to help prepare him for the Indy 500. But Busch made the Chase for the Championship and opted to focus all of his efforts towards winning a second Sprint Cup title. In hindsight and given his first official practice session, Busch is relieved that he did not enter the Fontana event.

“I’m glad I skipped out on Fontana last fall,” Busch added. “That would have been like drinking through a funnel, more of a keg stand I think. Because of all the practice days, it’s going to help me get comfortable and digest the information.

“I think with just a one-day practice at Fontana last fall, it wouldn’t have been a good idea.”

Weather permitting, Busch will again test his No. 26 Dallara Honda on Monday afternoon during the second day of Indianapolis 500 practice.

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

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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

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattWeaverSBN

Categories
Editorial

Does Indy 500 Entry Make Kurt Busch the Face of NASCAR?

By Matt Weaver –There is a certain irony in Kurt Busch, one of NASCAR’s top villains, going IndyCar racing this May to compete in the Indianapolis 500 for Andretti Autosport.

In choosing to become the first NASCAR driver to attempt the ‘May Double’ since 2004 (Robby Gordon), Busch has suddenly established himself as the face of NASCAR once he kicks off his efforts to win the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

When Busch arrives at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a few months, he will be seen as the invading “taxi cab driver” as IndyCar Competition Director Derrick Walker put it so eloquently in February.

While many IndyCar fans will support Busch, realizing that his success could fuel interest in IndyCar, others will root against him, taking an “us versus them” approach. It is from that perspective that Busch has suddenly become NASCAR’s heroic choice — their fans’ champion, participating in the Indianapolis 500.

Busch, known for his aggressive driving style and equally aggressive public personality, now has a chance to win over the fans that have derided him for so many years. Now aligned with the popular Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Danica Patrick, Busch is at a point of his career, at 35 years old, where he has a real chance to define his legacy.

While the 2004 championship and 24 career Sprint Cup victories is nothing to balk at, Busch is more known for his outbursts than his successes.

An opportunity with Andretti Autosport in the Indianapolis 500 is a quality ride. Given his prior passing of the Rookie Orientation Program in 2013, Busch is poised, given two additional weeks of practice in May to contend for the victory.

Not only would winning the Borg Warner Trophy be the biggest win of his career, it would also be a career-defining moment for Busch, the chance to win over his legion of detractors as the “NASCAR guy” that went into Indianapolis and won.

With the likes of Scott Dixon, Marco Andretti, Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves participating in the event, winning will be no easy task. But it does provide the perfect setting for Busch to come full circle and become the face of NASCAR that seemed so close to a sure thing following his 2004 season championship.

The path to redemption and glory begins in May.