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
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.