It's called the double. Only three people, John Andretti, Tony Stewart, and Robby Gordon have ever attempted it, and Kurt Busch is the first person to try since Gordon did it in 2004. Today Busch will get in an Indycar and race the Indianapolis 500, jump on a Cessna to fly to Charlotte, and race in NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600. That's 1,100 miles in one day of some of the highest intensity driving on planet. And you thought your road trip to Florida was a big deal? We talked to the Outlaw, when he was in NYC making his media rounds, and got the scoop on the biggest day of his career.
Interview by Tony Markovich (@T_Marko)
How are you feeling after that crash?
Good, actually not too bad. That type of hit used to be more like a stock car hit when we didn’t have the safer barriers, but the Indy cars are less material in front of you to absorb the crash. It’s just a part of it. Rookie mistake. It’s all a lesson learned: don’t do that again or it’ll hurt.
It doesn't seem like you have any injuries at all.
No, not really. I’ve wrecked my good share of cars, I just need to stop doing that.
You'll be driving Marco's backup car now, correct?
Well, his dad has been real nice. I don’t know if he’s even asked Marco about it. I’m just kidding. Naw, great team. When you have that depth, it takes a lot of man power and it takes a lot of cars and equipment. So to have a mistake like this, at least it’s early enough in the week to bounce back from it.
Is there a big difference going from what you were driving to the one of the different cars?
The Indy car guys are so solid with the specs that they keep their cars to that point where it doesn’t matter if it’s a Marco car or a 900 ready car. The Andretti guys are able to really get to that last 1,000th of a decimal point to be accurate and get the car reset up.
How is that different from in Nascar when you're going from car to car?
Oh yeah, that’s huge. Just the amount of body roll and the moments that the cup car transitions through. There is a lot of movement and you just have to allow the car to do those movements before you react to them. In Indy car, you have to stay ahead of them and your inputs with the steering wheel and the throttle are much more precise.
At the end of the day, this is Memorial Day weekend, and it’s about our military and the path that I’ve been on to help with the Armed Forces Foundation.
You're attempting to do the Indy 500 and the Coke 600 back to back. How did that decision come about this year specifically?
A lot of things fell into place. It’s a childhood dream, and a challenge in motor sports. It's about having fun but also trying to take it to the next level. The NASCAR points system, where if you win you’re not locked in the chase but virtually you’re there, that allows for the freedom to try some other racing. But, at the end of the day, this is Memorial Day weekend and it’s about our military and the path that I’ve been on to help with the Armed Forces Foundation. This really means a lot to me to put them on a stage to show respect and honor to our military. Memorial Day has always meant that to me.
Do you have any personal ties?
Not through my family, but the time that I spent at Walter Reed and with the military members. It’s been a two-way street. I’ve received from it all their hardships and what they have gone through, it puts my days in perspective when I thought was having a bad day, it doesn’t measure up to what they have been through.
Have you done sorts of additional training?
Yeah, definitely ramped it up. I was training before with just strength training and a little bit of cardio. Now, it’s been a run to the gym and go to a Marshall Arts instructor and keep my heart rate up to his boot camp style of exercises and then run back a mile and a half back to the house. So, it’s been good to just stay on that and stay strong through it. This week is a strong nutritional week to get the energy out of the foods that I’m eating and go onto a low carb diet to start the week. And then hitting it heavy at the end so that my body is at it’s best on Sunday.
Have you been practicing driving the two different types of cars in the same day to get adjusted to making that switch?
Yeah, Saturday was a great trial run for everything. Even the logistics of chopper rides, airplane rides, and the Cessna Citation X is the fastest civilian plane that helps us do all this. I got from door to door [Indianapolis to Charlotte] in an hour and 31 minutes. It’s incredible and the team behind everything, the logistics... The two cars, the motorsports side of it, that’s the fun of getting behind the wheel and driving, and it’s a challenge to go back and forth.
What’s the longest you have ever driven in one day?
You know the Coke 600 is probably the longest I have ever been in the car, so why not double down and throw 500 miles on that?
Yeah, no big deal.
Yeah, why not right? Naw, this is just one of those things in my life; to me this is a challenge in motorsports and there have only been a few that have done it before and I have admired those who have done it. They’re racers. They’re just racers from the word “go.” That’s why we all are in Nascar and in IndyCar. It’s hard to define compared to regular sports, but being a racer you’ll just jump into anything and drive and go. And I’m one of the first guys to come from the NASCAR side to go try Indy.
How do you think the magnitude of the Indy 500 compares to the big races in NASCAR?
Well, it’s equivalent to our Daytona 500. The greatest spectacle in racing, though, is defined as the Indy 500. And it’s a spectacle, but at the same time, it’s man vs. machine against that track. And just over the decades you can see how cars just have evolved with wings on them and the rear engines and the technology that has been put into Indy cars is what we live with everyday as Americans and technology as the cars that we drive. You know, NASCAR is a car that is based on a stock car, but I believe technology has been driven more on the open wheels side over the last few decades.
Especially with all these street-legal supercars these days.
Yeah, regenerative breaking systems and hybrids like you see in Formula 1 and Formula E. There’s technology in racing that bridges over to civilian life and then back and forth with safety as well.
Would you ever consider F1?
I am 35 years old and I think my time has passed for jumping in something that ballistic.
When you’re switching cars, what is the biggest thing you have to adjust to?
Just being more precise and accurate with the Indy car and knowing where all the adjustments are inside the car. Then when I jump into the stock car Saturday night last week I was overreacting to the moments in the car, as far as the weight transition and as far as the tire slip angle. I was being too aggressive with the cup car. So, it’s two different disciplines all on the same day.
The greatest spectacle in racing, though, is defined as the Indy 500. And it’s a spectacle, but at the same time, it’s man vs. machine against that track.
What about the actual drivers that you’re going up against? Is one group more aggressive than the other?
It’s a good question and complex answer, because I’m a veteran in NASCAR and I’m a champion. At the same time, they know that I’m trying to do something very unique and different and won’t be at 100 percet. So, there will be the guys that will try and take advantage of that and then there’s the guys that I have to assert myself to be towards the front of the pack at the end of that 600-mile race. They will give the extra respect that I have gone through that day. On the Indy car side, I’m a rookie. I expect those guys to steamroll me and not give me any type of cushion for air. It’s up to them.
Except for Marco.
Yeah, I got the Andretti guys trained. They’re trying to get away from me as quick as possible. All kidding aside, the IndyCar guys have been great. They gave a warm welcome and were willing to be supportive. It has been inspirational to me, to be able to have them supportive of this. It’s all cut-throat on track, though. Everybody will be out there to win the Indy 500.
What’s it like being a 35-year-old champion having to revert back to being a rookie?
I had a friend of mine that’s worked with the Armed Force Foundation and is an ex-marine and he texted me in a sarcastic tone and said, “you’re a champion rookie, go out there and do it.” It’s really cool to have a chance to go back and do something brand new, but to have 15 years of experience in somewhat close of a discipline.
Once you complete this challenge, what's the next goal?
I don’t know. Ask me Tuesday afterwards. To me this is about fun. It’s reliving a childhood dream. I had a fork in the road in the early ‘90s, to drive a stock car or drive an open wheel car. And the stock car I drove that next weekend I won with, and the guy asked me to race it for him. And this circles around to that time I had the chance to drive an open wheel car but didn’t head down that path. So, I came in from the back door the opposite way.