Apr 29, 2014, 6:36 PM EDT
Today, that challenge began at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where Busch strapped into his No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda and worked through the three-phase Rookie Orientation Program that all ’500′ first-timers must pass.
Afternoon rains curtailed the day’s proceedings at IMS, but not before “The Outlaw” had completed his ROP. He ran 66 circuits around the 2.5-mile oval, setting a fast lap of 220.844 miles per hour.
Busch’s outing drew some interested observers to the Speedway, including his Andretti teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, and James Hinchcliffe, as well as a horde of media.
“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.”
Busch is aiming to become the fourth driver ever to race in both the Indy 500 and Coke 600 on the same day, and the second driver to finish all 1,100 miles; his NASCAR teammate and boss, Tony Stewart, completed that feat in 2001 for Chip Ganassi Racing at the ’500′ and Joe Gibbs Racing at the ’600.’
Last May at Indy, Busch tested an Andretti machine, running 83 laps with a fast lap at 218.210 miles per hour. In that test, he passed a simulated version of the ROP.
But now that he’s passed the official ROP, Busch is cleared to take part in official ’500′ practice, which begins on May 11, one day after the Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway.
He is also slated to take additional laps at Indy with the other ’500′ rookies on May 5.
“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,” said Busch.
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