May 25, 2014, 5:18 PM EDT
500 miles in an IndyCar down. 600 miles in a stock car to go.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kurt Busch, who today is seeking to become the second driver to run all 1,100 miles of the Indianapolis 500/Coca-Cola 600 “Double, finished an impressive sixth in his first attempt at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
“It was an incredible journey to sniff the lead of the Indy 500 in that lead group,” Busch said in a statement. “I’ll tell you, though, the top five are incredible in this series at getting all they can out of their car, being able to keep it under control and being able to race for position.
“I felt like I could hang on to that lead pack. I gave it my all, and I know the car was better than I was, but I’m very satisfied with the sixth place.”
That replicated the Indy result of NASCAR teammate/boss Tony Stewart in his 2001 “Double.” The man they call Smoke finished sixth for Chip Ganassi in the ‘500’, then finished third in the 600 later that night – a performance that Busch called a “benchmark” for himself two days ago on Carb Day.
After today’s ‘500,’ Busch immediately headed for his flight to Charlotte Motor Speedway, where the green flag for this year’s 600 is expected to drop at 6:18 p.m. ET. He’ll have to start NASCAR’s longest race from the back of the field, as he missed this afternoon’s Sprint Cup drivers’ meeting.
Busch’s girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll, tweeted photos of Busch receiving IV fluids and trying to catch a few Z’s on the flight to CMS.
And around 5 p.m. ET, Busch’s chopper landed in the infield grass along the CMS front-stretch.
Busch started 12th on the ‘500’ grid, but fell back in the first half of the race as he tried to get acclimated to working in traffic with his No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda – which was originally a backup car for Marco Andretti before Busch crashed his primary car last Monday in practice.
At the halfway point, Busch was right at mid-pack in 17th position. But the former Sprint Cup champion steadily rose toward the front and cracked the Top 10 with around 50 laps to go.
He continued to move up through a string of late cautions, and lined up sixth for the final restart with six laps to go.
That would prove to be as far as he could go, but it was still a steady performance from a driver that, outside of his practice crash, was impressive throughout preparations for the ‘500.’
“Hats off to him,” said team owner Michael Andretti, who got the ‘500’ win with driver Ryan Hunter-Reay. “He did a really good job. He came in here with the right mindset. He came in with a lot of experience, but still coming in with the mindset of a rookie, like I said. Went to school and was a great student.
“You could tell the way he ran the first part of the race – he fell back, but you could tell he was learning. When he started feeling confident, he started picking them off.”
Andretti noted that Busch thought he had a car capable of an even bigger result if a rookie wasn’t driving it.
“I said, ‘You have nothing to be ashamed of. You did a great month the whole month,'” said Andretti. “It was a pleasure having him on our team. I think everybody on the team really liked having him on. Maybe we’ll do it again sometime.”
Now, Busch will seek to cap off his Double with another great race – but inside the more familiar confines of his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet.
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