Murto: Kurt Busch is one to watch
The biggest weekend in motorsports is upon us, and it is always full of stories and sidebars worth reporting.
Will Mercedes continue to be dominant when the Formula One circus hits the streets of Monaco? Will NASCAR see yet another winner at Charlotte in the ultra-competitive Sprint Cup season?
And how will Kurt Busch do in the Indy 500?
Kurt Busch will attempt to run both Charlotte and the Indy 500, driving for Michael Andretti in the 500. It’s been many years — decades, in fact — since a NASCAR driver who didn’t have prior Indy experience attempted to run the 500.
We’ve seen open-wheel drivers step into stock cars before; even the late Jimmy Clark competed in what is not the Cup series at Rockingham. And we’ve had previous Indy 500 winners compete in the Cup series full time, such as Sam Hornish and Juan Pablo Montoya. In recent decades we’ve seen stock car racers who came from open wheel, such as Tony Stewart, John Andretti and Robby Gordon, pull off the double and compete at Indy and Charlotte on the same day.
But stock car drivers giving up fenders to compete at Indy doesn’t happen often. In the ’60s Bobby Johns (1965), Cale Yarborough (1966), and LeeRoy Yarbrough skipped Charlotte to run at Indy. In ’67 Cale became the first NASCAR driver to run both races. LeeRoy ran both in ’69, winning at Charlotte. The best performance was in 1970, when Donnie Allison won Charlotte and finished fourth at Indy. Cale Yarborough (’73) and Bobby Allison (’75) skipped Charlotte to run Indy.
On most of those race weekends Charlotte ran on Sunday afternoon and Indy on Monday. High-speed private air transportation wasn’t as common in the ’60s and ’70s, especially for race drivers who didn’t make the money they make today.
And today we have Kurt Busch, creating yet another chapter as he remakes his career. Fired from Roush, fired from Penske, Busch now drives for Stewart-Haas and already has a win under his belt this year. The former Cup champion appears to have his temper under control, but since things have been going well for him it’s really hard to tell. After all, those charm schools previous car owners paid for ultimately didn’t work.
Despite his bad behavior, he never lost his ability to drive. And as he proved when he competed in an NHRA Pro Stock event, he’s not afraid to try his hand at new disciplines. His right foot is still as heavy as ever.
Busch qualified 12th for this year’s Indy 500. With the new qualifying procedures and two-day format, it’s interesting that although Busch didn’t make the top-nine positions on Saturday that would have enabled him to take a shot at the pole on Sunday, his recorded speed was enough to put him on the front row. He’s going to have a fast car.
Monday’s practice didn’t go well. Satellite radio reported that practicing in race trim with a full tank of fuel in a pack of four or five cars, Busch got out of the groove slightly and the rear broke loose. He slapped the wall, resulting in “significant damage.” He walked away from the crash unassisted.
It was unclear whether the car will be repaired or if he’ll start Indy in a backup machine. Regardless, he’ll be in top-notch equipment; maybe it’s a good thing he’s finding the car’s limits in traffic before the race.
Parker Kligerman set up Busch’s car for the All Star race last weekend at Charlotte as Busch qualified at Indy. Kligerman also will sub for Busch as needed in preparation for the 600. NASCAR rules state that in situations such as this, if Busch qualifies the car today that counts as an attempt to make the race. If he is delayed at Indy due to rain or other circumstances and misses the start at Charlotte he will not get points, but as a race winner who made an attempt to start the race he will still be eligible for the Chase as long as he finishes in the top 30 in points at the end of the 26-race regular season.
Yeah, it gets complicated. Almost as complicated as the travel arrangements of drivers trying to do the Indy-Charlotte double. What isn’t complicated is that like him or not, Kurt Busch is the driver to watch this Memorial Day weekend.