Busch, the 2004 NASCAR champion, will try to qualify for the Indy 500 in a fifth car for Andretti. Should he make the May 25 race, Busch will then fly to Charlotte Motor Speedway to fulfill his full-time job with Stewart-Haas Racing in NASCAR’s longest event of the year.
“I’m a fan of motorsports, a student of motorsports, and I view this as a challenge for myself,” Busch said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Memorial Day weekend, the central focus of all motorsports is Monaco, Indianapolis and Charlotte and this is a tremendous opportunity to be right in the middle of it.”
Only John Andretti, Tony Stewart and Robby Gordon have attempted the grueling, 1,100-mile “double,” and no driver has tried since Gordon in 2004.
Stewart, Busch’s new co-owner at Stewart-Haas, is the only driver to complete all 1,100 miles. He did it in his second and final attempt, in 2001, when he finished sixth at Indy and third at Charlotte.
An Indiana native who grew up dreaming of winning the Indianapolis 500, Stewart long ago abandoned that goal and passed on an offer last year from Roger Penske to drive one of his cars in the 2013 Indianapolis 500. But he said in January that Busch had his blessing to pursue a seat in this year’s race.
Busch first flirted with the idea last May when he completed the Indy 500 rookie orientation program with Andretti. He didn’t put a program together to run the 500, and said he’s second-guessed that decision at times.
“I took the conservative route and sometimes I kick myself because Carlos Munoz finished second as a rookie in that car last year,” Busch noted. “So now I’m challenging myself to do something great in motorsports.”
Andretti will unveil the car and primary sponsor for Busch at a later date.
“I’m really excited to have Kurt come onboard for the Indy 500. He did a great job for us when he tested last year,” Andretti said. “He’s obviously a natural talent and we feel he is going to take to the Indy car quickly and have a competitive month with us.”
Busch, an advocate for The Armed Forces Foundation who is dedicating his effort to the men and women in the U.S. military, will bring at least two personal sponsors.
Cessna has signed on to help with his transportation between IndyCar and NASCAR, and Busch estimates it will require at least 20 hours of flight time shuttling him back and forth between both series. He’s also teamed with Basis, a wrist-based health tracker Busch is using to help with his training leading up to the double.
Busch is also taken up martial arts and joked he’s entered “a boot camp phase” of his personal training.
“You can get your body ready, and do all the cardio needed and follow the nutritional guidelines,” he said. “But the mental aspect of running 1,100 miles is like nothing you can prepare for. I think the martial arts can help with that.”
Busch will not participate in an IndyCar race before the Indy 500, but president of competition Derrick Walker said last month the series would try to accommodate him with track time much the same way it has Juan Pablo Montoya in his move from NASCAR back to Indy cars this season.
“To add a driver with the résumé of Kurt Busch to the Indianapolis 500 field is a huge gain for IndyCar,” Walker said. “We want to see the best 33 drivers put their skills to the test on the biggest stage in motorsports, regardless of which series they come from. To attempt ‘the double’ is a tremendous challenge, and we’re looking forward to watching Kurt accomplish the feat this May.”
Busch’s path to the Indy 500 will begin in earnest after the May 10 Sprint Cup race at Kansas. He’s expected to spend a week testing Andretti’s Honda, and make at least 10 trips between Indy and Charlotte as he participates in NASCAR’s All-Star race and attempts to qualify for the 500, race in the 500 and the 600.
He said he’s worked out several scheduling issues with NASCAR and has permission from Charlotte Motor Speedway to helicopter onto the front stretch of the track to speed up his arrival for the second race. But if he wins in Indy, he knows he’ll be late to Charlotte — if he makes it all.
However, NASCAR’s new Chase for the Sprint Cup championship format means all Busch has to do this year is win a race to earn a spot in the 16-driver Chase, and he can afford to miss the start of the 600 and not jeopardize his regular job.
“As long as we attempt to qualify for every race, we are eligible for the Chase under the new rules,” Busch said. “It’s like you are in New York City, on Broadway, and you look up at all the bright lights — they are clearly pointing to this being the right time to do this. The green light is on.”
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