Don Quixote On Four Wheels

Kurt Busch

Kurt Busch's quest to win the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday will have many fans following him. (Photo: Getty Images)


CONCORD, N.C. - Look beyond the back-and-forth flights, high speeds and prestige, and what does one see with Kurt Busch’s quest to race in both the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600?

A noble but unwise endeavor.

Yet, that’s also the beauty of what Busch is doing. 

If people only did what made sense where would we be? Does it make sense to climb Mt. Everest? No, but conquering it is a triumph of the human spirit. Did it make sense for Felix Baumgartner to break the speed of sound in a skydive? No, but he showed how far humans can strive.

Consider Busch - with his bid to race 1,100 miles on the biggest day of the year for motorsports - the Don Quixote on four wheels, making doubters see what is possible.

As Alexander the Great once said: “There is nothing impossible to him who will try.’’

Busch faces quite a challenge.

He seeks to become the fourth driver to race at Indy and Charlotte in the same day, yet Busch has nowhere the experience in IndyCars that John Andretti, Robby Gordon and Tony Stewart did when they ran both races. Monday’s crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a reminder of how difficult this task is.

Busch makes this attempt - with the blessing of Sprint Cup car owner Gene Haas - even as his Cup team struggles. Although Busch’s Martinsville win all but assure him a Chase spot, he’s placed 25th or worse in seven of the season’s first 11 races. 

While some will see these and others reasons as why Busch shouldn’t be making this attempt, what Busch is doing is what sports is about. 

It’s that opportunity to see something that we haven’t seen before - or haven’t seen in years. There’s a reason why people are more prone to watch sporting events live instead of on tape. We want to see the impossible as it happens. We want to share in that moment with the athlete. Years later we want to be able to say, “I remember when ...’’ We want to see others do what we can only dream of doing.

“I can’t wait to watch and pull for him,’’ Dale Earnhardt Jr. said of Busch’s run in the Indianapolis 500.

Earnhardt isn’t alone. Even some who are not Busch fans likely are interested in how he’ll do in this adventure. The two biggest questions Sunday will be who won the races and how did Busch do.

Busch said he hopes he can provide motorsports with a “shot in the arm,’’ luring casual fans to watch his progress and see how well he fares in both races.

Watching Busch could provide the drama similar to watching someone walk on a tight rope.                          

This is Busch’s first IndyCar race. He has to drive a high-downforce car with the precision of a surgeon. Juan Pablo Montoya noted that Busch overcorrected when his IndyCar got loose and crashed on Monday. 

An IndyCar does not need as much action from the steering wheel to respond, while stock cars do. That’s just among the many differences. IndyCars have various devices a driver can adjust the car in the cockpit to improve a car’s handling. While fans focus on the speed - IndyCars exceeded 230 mph during practice - speed is relative. The challenge is putting a car in the right spot without losing control.

“It hasn’t been overwhelming,’’ Busch said of learning to drive an IndyCar, “but, at the same time, each day in the IndyCar I’m a student and I’m learning. How many times have we all told ourselves if I would have known now what I could have known then?’’

Busch admits his crash, in hindsight, was a good thing. Better to learn from one’s mistakes in practice than during the race and have all the effort be wasted.

Busch is learning as he races the best in IndyCar and tries to beat them in their biggest race of the year. It would be like an IndyCar driver with little experience in a stock car trying to win the Daytona 500.

“It’s been fun to watch and very fun from a NASCAR standpoint to see him go over there and have speed and be competitive,’’ teammate Kevin Harvick said. “That is hard to do in late model racing, in go-kart racing to go into somebody else’s territory and be competitive no matter what level it is at.”

We’ll watch Busch as he faces challenges that practice can only prepare him so much for Sunday’s race, such as the three-abreast start where he’ll be on the outside of the fourth row.

“The draft and the tow are much more violent than what it is in NASCAR,’’ Busch said. “The simulation of 33 cars won’t happen until Sunday. I give myself a B minus right now. I still have to work through traffic, to pass cars and let others feel confident around me. I need the first half of the race to do such. 

“Can we win? We have to put ourselves in position to win.’’

Teammate Danica Patrick said a piece of advice she was given before her first race at Indianapolis could prove helpful to Busch.

“His challenge is just going to be keeping his head on straight and making sure he doesn’t get flustered at any point and I mean just in the race,’’ Patrick said. 

“The first advice I ever got for the Indy 500 in 2005 was to never feel like you’re out of it and never give up, anything can happen. That sure as heck is right. I stalled it on pit lane and then later in the race I had an accident that ripped my front nose off and I still came back and almost won it. Anything can happen, so you just have to stay calm.’’

Anything can happen in Busch’s bid to run both races and that’s why we’ll be watching.


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