Nick DeGroot gives his thoughts on Kurt Busch's attempt at running both the Indianapolis 500 and Coca Cola 600 on the same day.
2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Kurt Busch and his crusade to complete 1,100 miles of racing in a single day was ended prematurely and now that it's over, it's time to give an assessment regarding how he performed.
Indy 500 Pole Day - Why did he leave?
Kurt Busch was only able to put in two runs at Indy on the Saturday before Pole Day, while his adversaries were able to go out three, some four times. Despite that disadvantage, he still put up a strong lap time before he went back to Charlotte for All-Star Race qualifying. In my opinion, that was a mistake.
Later that night, he would finish 11th in the All-Star Race; an event he won back in 2010. When he returned to Indianapolis on Sunday, he put in a time good enough for 12th. He shared the fourth row on the grid with two former winners of the Indy 500 (Scott Dixon and Juan Pablo Montoya).
I still can't understand why he left though. Wait, let me rephrase that. I do understand why, but I don't understand why he left when he did. He has an obligation to his Cup team, Gene Haas (who owns but also sponsors the car), and to his fans to be in Charlotte for the race itself. Why All-Star Race qualifying superseded a shot at the Indy 500 pole though, I'll never know.
Indianapolis 500 - I was wrong
I said on a radio show prior to the 500 that Kurt Busch would run strong at Indy. He would be up front, leading laps, and in contention at the end of the day. I also stated that although Kurt is a driver of incredible caliber, I felt that his aggressive style would get him in trouble on race day. I was wrong on both counts.
Kurt Busch's Indy 500 bid epitomizes just how versatile of a driver he really is. He's won championships in both NASCAR and IROC, finished third in the 24 Hours of Daytona, qualified a Pro Stock dragster, and now, he finishes sixth in his maiden open-wheel race.
Coca Cola 600 - Was Kurt's run at 'The Double' a success?
After missing the drivers meeting, Kurt was forced to start at the rear of the field for the Coca Cola 600. With a long green-flag run to start the race, he went a lap down early. He did fight his way back onto the lead lap, only to fall behind once more. He was lucky enough to earn the free pass for a second time however, as he ran around 15th place.
Kurt Busch's run at 'The Double' was a success despite the unfortunate way his night ended. Besides all the publicity both he and his sponsors enjoyed, Kurt once again proved his ability goes beyond stock car racing. It was great for both NASCAR and IndyCar as well. Two fan bases combined into one for Kurt and that's never a bad thing.
I've talked to a number of people who have never watched an IndyCar race in their life, yet, they sat down to watch the Indy 500. For KB personally, this should be a huge confidence booster after all the struggles he has endured on the NASCAR side since his victory at Martinsville earlier this year. On a different note, this also reopens the door for other NASCAR drivers who were curious, yet cautious about doing 'The Double.'
Don't be surprised in the least to see Busch return to Indianapolis next year for another shot at it, and I think he might have some company as well. Both A.J. Allmendinger and Kyle Larson have open-wheel experience, and in the case of AJ, Indy 500 experience as well. They currently race full-time in the top level of NASCAR and I look at them as the most likely candidates to tackle both races on the same day moving forward.
Bottom Line: Kurt Busch did a fantastic job and I believe he would have completed every lap and earned a top ten or top fifteen finish in the Coca Cola 600 had his engine endured. After so many years of not a single driver attempting to run both Indy and Charlotte, I think Kurt's success has opened the flood gates to a whole new series of drivers who will try to replicate the performance of Tony Stewart in 2001 when he completed all 1,100 laps.