CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — After his whirlwind month, Kurt Busch earned a one-day trip to Virginia International Raceway for a day of road course testing with Stewart-Haas Racing.
His first day off finally came Wednesday, when Busch finally got to reflect on becoming the fourth driver to run both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day. Although he came up short in his bid to complete all 1,100 miles, he earned widespread praise for his strong showing in his first career IndyCar race.
An engine failure cut short his run in the NASCAR race, but Busch was sixth in the Indy 500 and earned the rookie of the year honors at the post-race awards banquet. Busch fought back tears as he accepted his award and thanked team owner Michael Andretti for the opportunity.
“This whole dream of mine started two years ago when my career was at a crossroads,” said Busch, who lost his ride with Roger Penske after the 2011 season. “Michael Andretti, I met up with him, and I’ll tell you, it was a unique chance to talk to him about running a NASCAR team and it was like, `Hey, if you’ve got an open-wheel ride, I’d like to try out that Indy 500.’ And he said, `Kid, you can come race for me anytime.'”
Although there were fans who felt 19-year-old Sage Karam, who drove from 31st to ninth, was a worthy choice of at least co-rookie honors, Busch believed he was a true newcomer despite his vast racing experience. He said he was “blown away” by adapting to the aerodynamics of an Indy car and the nuances of open-wheel racing. His speech on Monday night made it clear he was truly humbled by his entire experience.
“I’ve been to 15 Daytona 500s, I’ve been to that many Brickyard 400s, but honestly, the Indianapolis 500 will blow you away,” he said.
But will he do it again?
“The million-dollar question is, `Will I be back?’ I’d love to be back,” he said. “I had so much fun. The key to all this was the blindfold, and they took it off right at the end of the race and I ended up sixth.”
RARE RED-FLAG: When Townsend Bell crashed with 10 laps to go in the Indianapolis 500, race control took the unprecedented step of stopping the race to clean up debris.
The move came two days after top team owner Chip Ganassi called on IndyCar to adopt NASCAR’s policy of using green-white-checkered flag finishes to ensure fans see a race to the end, instead of events ending under caution.
IndyCar did not go that route, instead choosing to red-flag the race for a delay that lasted a little more than 10 minutes. The restart led to a six-lap sprint to the finish and Ryan Hunter-Reay beat Helio Castroneves by 0.06 seconds, the second-closest finish in Indy 500 history.
“In previous 500s, we would have just run out under caution, so kudos to race control for giving the fans the finish they wanted to see,” reigning IndyCar champion Scott Dixon said.
Juan Pablo Montoya, who spent the past seven seasons in NASCAR, said he was “shocked” by the red flag. But, the 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner believed it was the right call.
“I think it was great for the show because it was a hell of a finish there,” he said. “The last five cars were right against each other, we were right there. I mean I think the fans would have missed a hell of a race if we don’t get that. And I think that brought a lot of attention to IndyCar and made it really good. Now the question is, we’ve got to make sure that now if they do it that, is it always going to happen?”
DOVER GRAND MARSHALS: Dover International Speedway has named country music star Luke Bryan co-grand marshal of Sunday’s race along with Joey Principe, a 17-year-old Delaware native with Asperger’s syndrome. The race is sponsored by FedEx and is called the FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks. Principe is about to complete his junior year at Delcastle Technical High School in Newport, Delaware. He has a 15-year-old sister, Samantha, who has autism.
ENGINE PENALTIES: Honda was docked 50 engine manufacturer championship points for unapproved engine changes on five cars at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The engines were changed on the cars for Takuma Sato, Graham Rahal, Justin Wilson, James Hinchcliffe and Carlos Munoz. IndyCar also issued 10-point penalties to four teams and drivers for unapproved engine changes. They were: Jacques Villeneuve and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Oriol Servia and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Martin Plowman and A.J. Foyt Racing, and Alex Tagliani and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. Later, Chevrolet and Honda were penalized 10 engine manufacturer points for engine changes under mileage in the Ed Carpenter Racing entry driven by Carpenter and the Andretti Autosport car driven by Marco Andretti.