If all goes according to plan, Kurt Busch will log at least 1,530 miles on Memorial Day – 430 in the air and 1,100 on the ground – as he “does the double,” racing in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte. He’s the first driver in a decade to attempt the back-to-back, which requires physical and mental strength as well as the fortitude to navigate complicated sponsor and racing team relationships. He’s determined to make the most of the opportunity despite having never driven in an IndyCar event.
Michael Andretti was the first to suggest Busch try a double about nine months ago, as the driver was enjoying a high point of his career. “The last couple years have been a good time to reflect on my career and try more of a fun approach,” Busch tells Men’s Journal. “Fortunately, a lot of things came together for me.”
Busch will spend 20 hours in the air bouncing back and forth between qualification events, represent two teams using two different engine brands, and spend a hell of a lot of time thinking about weather and possible delays. His one advantage over his historical competitors: Most Indiana counties, including Marion, where the Speedway sits, adopted Daylight Savings Time in 2006 so he’ll have an hour Robby Gordon didn’t in 2003.
Still, he’s got plenty to overcome on the actual track. “The focus in on the 500 because my life has been centered around NASCAR.” Over the last 14 years, the Las Vegas-born racer has won a title, a 600, and a wide range of races behind a roaring stock car engine. Sitting in front of a 10,300 rpm will be a new experience. “In stock cars you can make mistakes because the races are so long, but Indy cars are not forgiving,” Busch says. “With my lack of experience, it’s intimidating.”
But Busch is not the sort of guy who lives at the mercy of the odds. That’s why he’ll be spending 45 days in a mixed martial arts boot camp between now and memorial day and why he plans to spend some quality time with Mark Martin, the retired strongman of NASCAR. He’ll also be going over tape with team owner Tony Stewart, who did the double twice – I want to be a student of his double,” Busch says – and John Andretti, who did it once.
“It would be great to lead a lap,” Busch says of the 500. “I led some laps at Daytona earlier this year and as I was leading I was thinking, ‘This is really cool. If I lead laps at Indy, no one’s ever done that before.”
At the very least, Busch intends to have a good time pushing his limits. He says he’s still dazzled by the Indy Speedway and excited to work with the Andretti family.
“Indy is the priority,” he says, “But this is just about being a racer.”