SPEEDWAY, Ind. – “Go out and have fun,” Andretti Autosport engineer Craig Hampson told Kurt Busch as he headed out on another run around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The former NASCAR champion heeded the advice on the 2.5-mile oval during a refresher program arranged in conjunction with his schedule that will get more hectic during May.
Busch, 35, will attempt to become the fourth driver to attempt the “double” – competing in the 98th Indianapolis 500 and the evening stock car race in Concord, N.C., on May 25.
John Andretti, Robby Gordon and Tony Stewart have each done it, with Stewart – co-owner of Busch’s No. 41 Sprint Cup car at Stewart Haas Racing – becoming the first in 2001 to complete all 1,000 miles.
“This attempt is something serious,” said Busch, who is scheduled to join other Indy 500 rookies May 5 at the Speedway for additional laps. “It’s an amazing challenge.”
Busch was off to a quick start learning the Honda-powered No. 26 Suretone car, recording a best of 220.844 mph on 66 total laps before rain brought an early end to the day which featured stiff headwind entering turn one of the iconic oval.
“It really makes you think,” Busch said. “Overall, it was a good day just to settle in with the team and advance further than rookie orientation. It felt good to give feedback to the team from the car and have them explain things to me how we’re going to move forward. They continued to change downforce combinations on the car and it was just neat to feel all that and check it off the list.
“The last run we made was just about where they would unload for race trim.”
Because he tested last May on the oval last year in an Andretti Autosport car, Busch was required to complete the formal refresher program. In addition to demonstrating car control, placement and consistent driving pattern, the program consists of 30 laps that constitute the second and third phases of the Rookie Orientation Program at speed intervals based on track and weather conditions.
“Now that all the newness and moments of smiling and ‘this is Indy’ are wearing off, that’s when the serious hat goes on and we start to ramp up the program.”
Andretti Autosport’s James Hinchcliffe, who joined multiple other Verizon IndyCar Series drivers watching the first cars on the oval in 2014, said he expects Busch to be among the ‘500’ contenders.
“I think we’re going to be strong in the race and I think we’ve showed that the past couple of years,” said Hinchciffe, who drives the No. 27 United Fiber & Data car. “He has more professional races under his belt than the rest of the field combined with as many races as NASCAR runs and I’m sure he’s going to adapt pretty quickly.”