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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.

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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.

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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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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

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Editorial

Why Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski Rivalry is What NASCAR Needs

By Matt Weaver — Let’s face it — we all love a good feud in NASCAR.

There is a certain subset of the fandom that was first attracted to the sport as a result of Ken Squier’s famous call of the 1979 Daytona 500, that included these timeless words:

“And there’s a fight between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison! The tempers overflowing; they are angry, they know they have lost and what a bitter defeat.”

The fact that NASCAR fans like a good fight is no more demeaning of their personality than it is of the similarly-minded NHL fans. It is the rough and tumble foundation in which the NASCAR empire was built.

martinsville_kubusch_keselowski2222222222222222222222In a sporting world where so much has become homogenized, pasteurized, and sanitized for mass consumption, there remains an eternal appetite for athletes who are still willing to remind the fans just how much driving in circles actually matters and just how far they are willing to take retaliation when they believe they have been wronged.

This is what makes the possibility of a prolonged spat between Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch so enticing for fans of stock car racing. These are two characters with sharp convictions and clear-cut moral perspectives over how drivers should conduct themselves both on and off the track — and both believe the other has violated that code.

We want our sport and our narratives to feel authentic — and to have two polarizing and genuine superstars on the cusp of a prolonged battle — that’s the ultimate for this aspect of NASCAR racing.

And quite frankly, that’s the only missing ingredient to a fantastic start to 2014 that has also included six different winners in as many races, the sport’s most popular driver winning the Daytona 500 and close finishes week-in-and-week-out … even if some of them feel contrived.

That’s not to say that we want Brad and Kurt going out and wrecking each other for the next 30 races.

Instead, in a perfect world, this is the start of an all-encompassing battle, where both drivers duel nose-to-nose to the finish line this weekend in Texas, followed by shenanigans at the roughneck speedplants in Darlington and Richmond all leading up to their participation in the Chase Grid over the final 10 weeks of the season.

In the current NASCAR atmosphere, where the Sanctioning Body has set out to eliminate “it was a good points day,” the drivers must also be willing to step out of this white collar public relations vortex where feuding can no longer happen at the risk of offending sponsors.

The status quo has had a much more costly effect in offending the fans.

Even Keselowski himself, last fall, admitted that feuding has been squashed by the millions of dollars pumped in by the advertisers. From that perspective, it’s ironic that Brad is now one of the combatants in a war of words that has included threats of face rearranging by Busch and “leave victory lane and we’ll go.”

As Popular Speed cohort Steve Waid pointed out this morning, NASCAR needs the black hat villain and the sport needs rivalries. Just as Yarborough (a mirror for Keselowski), Allison (Busch) and Richard Petty (Earnhardt Jr.) shaped that 1979 season, 2014 also has all the pieces in place for a return to NASCAR racing that’s just a little rough around the edges.

A NASCAR for NASCAR fans.

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

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Categories
Editorial

Kurt Busch Arrives Full-Circle With Martinsville Triumph

By Matt Weaver (MARTINSVILLE, Va.) — Kurt Busch found himself at a career crossroads following the 2011 season but seemingly made all the right decisions leading towards his return to Victory Lane on Sunday in the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

Busch had just been ousted by Team Penske after the season-finale at Homestead that season. The decision, which was cited as mutual, mainly came as a result of Busch’s antagonistic personality, highlighted by a verbal tirade against an ESPN television personality (Jerry Punch) in the garage.

As a result, Busch was forced to accept a ride with mid-level Phoenix Racing as his only means to continue racing at the highest level of the sport. His career could have gone a drastically different direction as a result of those decisions.

Busch could have been defeated by the resulting struggles that accompanied his tenure with James Finch. The outbursts, while still present, could have been numerous with the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion burning all of his bridges … but he didn’t.

Instead of a permanent eviction from the sport, Busch transferred his talents from Phoenix to Furniture Row Racing and made the best of a difficult situation. He piloted the No. 78 Chevrolet into the Chase for the Championship for the first time in team history.

Busch used his time away from the spotlight of the sport to grow both personally and professionally, returning full-circle to the upper-echelon of the Sprint Cup Series garage.

But the win is no doubt big on several other levels as well. For one, the victory is a near guarantee that the No. 41 Haas CNC Automation Chevrolet will now compete for the Sprint Cup championship. Busch and crew chief Daniel Gnost can use the next 20 weeks to go for broke, chase additional victories, and otherwise prepare for the Chase.

His victory, combined with Kevin Harvick’s triumph at Phoenix International Raceway, is further confirmation that the formula of Stewart-Haas Racing this season is going to work. There is not going to be conflicts nor will there be bad blood or disputes at the Kannapolis-based race shop.

The four drivers, which also includes team owner Tony Stewart and Dancia Patrick, have all bought into a team-based system. The cars have possessed great speed and the new teammates are meshing as a unit.

Stewart-Haas Racing could be a very potent organization to deal with as the season heats up during the summer months. And a fully powered and focused Kurt Busch is something worth fearing within the Sprint Cup Series garage.

He’s back.

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

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Editorial NASCAR Cup Series

A UNIQUE VIEW: Kurt Busch and Furniture Row are Fighting to the Finish

By Unique Hiram – What similar characteristics do Kurt Busch and “Rocky Balboa” possess? They are competitive, determined, highly skilled and focused on the ultimate prize – victory.

It is quite evident that this champion driver and his team are determined to finish out the 2013 season strong. In all three Sprint Cup practice sessions this past weekend in Phoenix, they finished within the top five – fourth, first and third respectively. Qualifying eighth and finishing fifth was a huge accomplishment for the only single car team in the Chase.

“Well we were fifth today and maybe we were an eighth-place car.  We got up as high as fourth.  We put a good effort in and we just didn’t have the muscle those top-five guys had.  With (Carl) Edwards running out of gas that put us fifth and we will take that,” Busch said.

With 11 top fives, 16 top tens and one pole, the driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet  is very proud of the overall performance of his current team.

“This is a single car team in the Chase with the big dogs and we have had a very successful season.  It’s tough we haven’t won, but we have been knocking on the door.  We will give it everything we’ve got next week in Miami.  It’s been a good run.  Really have to thank those Furniture Row guys out of Colorado.”

Although Busch will be heading to a new team in 2014, Stewart Haas Racing, he is solely focused on making sure that Furniture Row Racing fights hard and finishes out this season in the best position. Despite the challenges and disadvantages they’ve faced, the team’s drive and determination have never wavered.

For the season finale at Homestead-Miami International Speedway, he is heading to a track where he’s been highly competitive.  Four top fives, five top tens and one win definitely look favorable for either a very strong finish or that much eluded trip to victory lane.

Busch is currently sitting tenth, 99 behind point leader Jimmie Johnson and just two outside of ninth place Joey Logano.

Fast cars, improved pit stops and running up front have proven to their competitors that they are here to challenge for the win. Driver and team are the true epitome of “the little engine that could.”

 

EMAIL UNIQUE AT unique.hiram@popularspeed.com

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