KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – The last time Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), competed at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it was part of his heavily anticipated attempt at “The Double” – racing in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on May 25.
Busch finished sixth in the 98th Indianapolis 500, becoming the first NASCAR driver to win the Indy 500’s top-finishing rookie honors since Donnie Allison in 1970. Busch’s finish was not only the top result of the 500’s 2014 rookie class , but also tied SHR teammate and co-owner Tony Stewart’s 2001 record for the best finish of the four drivers who have attempted The Double. Unfortunately, Busch’s efforts to become just the second driver to successfully complete the 1,100 miles of racing came to an early end later that evening Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway as the No. 41 Chevrolet suffered an engine failure 129 laps short of the race distance.
This trip to Indianapolis will be very different for the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion as his focus will lie solely on his efforts in Sunday’s 21st annual Brickyard 400 and capturing his first win at the famed 104-year-old speedway. In his Double attempt, Busch spent the month of May traveling back and forth to Indianapolis from NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway and Charlotte.
Busch has competed in 13 Brickyard 400s, scoring one top-five and four top-10 finishes. Perhaps most impressive and quite possibly a reason his sixth-place finish in the 500 shouldn’t have come as a complete surprise was that he scored his best Sprint Cup finish there during his very start, finishing fifth after qualifying 34th in 2001 during his rookie season.
The Las Vegas native finds himself in strong company with drivers looking for their first career Brickyard 400 win. Only 12 drivers can call themselves champions of the event. The 2.5-mile speedway has proven difficult for some of the sport’s greatest drivers. Case in point: Seven of the current top-10 in series points are winless at the venue. That number expands to 12 of the 16 drivers currently in position to secure a spot in the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.
An advantage in Busch’s quest for victory at the Brickyard this weekend comes in the form of his crew chief Daniel Knost, who served as the race engineer for Ryan Newman and SHR’s No. 39 team during the 2013 season. The No. 39 team claimed victory in the 20th annual Brickyard 400 last year, claiming the pole and leading four times for 45 laps en route to earning a spot in the 2013 Chase.
A win this weekend at the Brickyard would not only serve to fill a meaningful place in Busch’s trophy case, it would do so in fantastic fashion as it would cement the No. 41 team’s place in NASCAR’s 10-race playoff. With the No. 41 team’s win at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway in March, Busch is virtually guaranteed a spot in the 2014 Chase. Heading to Indianapolis fresh off a rare NASCAR off weekend, the driver of the Haas Automation Chevrolet is looking forward to Sunday’s 400-miler and his chance to win the event for the first time and finally kiss the famed “Yard of Bricks” in celebration.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What are your thoughts heading into this weekend’s race at Indianapolis?
“Indianapolis is tough. It’s been a tough place for me but it became even more of a challenge when they did the diamond cutting of the track. It’s just hard trying to find the balance you need that works at the beginning and will get you to the end of the race. We tend to have long, green-flag runs there and, for some reason, it has just been a track where I’m still trying to figure out the nuances you need to have a proper-handling car that gets around there and is fast.”
Talk a little bit about your decision to run the Indianapolis 500 this year.
“Indy was all about doing something different. It was a personal challenge to push myself in a totally different driving discipline. I’ve driven Trucks, Nationwide, 24 Hours of Daytona, competed in Pro Stock in NHRA, and I’ve tested the V8 Supercars. I love racing and I wanted to challenge myself physically and mentally. In the world of NASCAR, we race 40 weekends a year and it consumes your life and sometimes can burn you out. But Dale Jr., is the guy who threw down the gauntlet – ‘You are representing NASCAR’ – and at that point it hit me that this was bigger than my personal goals. I was going to be judged as the only pure NASCAR driver with no Indy experience to go there and compete with the best of the best in their biggest race. I never seem to do things the easy way. I had to pick the year that Indy was at its most competitive. When I landed on the front straightaway at Charlotte after finishing Indy, everybody was applauding me like I was no longer the bad guy. I was their NASCAR guy coming home, who went to Indy and made them proud so much that people were saying, ‘We always knew he was a racer.’”
You’ve been to some pretty historic places like Fenway Park, Wrigley Field and Soldier Field. Where does the Indianapolis Motor Speedway stack up against those other hallowed sports venues?
“It’s that same feeling of going to places like Wrigley and Soldier Field. I’ve been on the grandstand side in turn one and, when I walked up there and felt that nostalgic feeling, and it makes you think, ‘Alright, this place was built back in the early 1900s and this grandstand section is probably at least 70 years old, depending on if and when it was updated.’ There is an old, nostalgic feel of a place with history, a place of importance, and you take in those moments. I went and watched the Formula 1 race there. I’d seen the start of the Indy 500 there in years past. It’s just a very, special and unique place. My first time making a lap around there, I was captivated by the fact that I was racing at the Brickyard. Then, on lap two, I was back in the moment and was like, ‘I have a job to do.’”
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