DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Story by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman and Mid-Atlantic Correspondent Marshall Gabell — Chris Owens/IndyCar photo —
While many drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series are solely focused on Sunday’s 58th annual Daytona 500, Stewart Haas Racing’s Kurt Busch has a slightly different ‘500’ in the back of his mind as well.
That, of course, would be the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 — a race that Busch drove in with Andretti Autosport two years ago and finished sixth in his debut in, garnering Rookie of the Race honors and fueling speculation that he might attempt “Double Duty” (racing in both the Indy 500 and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 on the same day) on a yearly basis going forward.
However, that did not happen in 2015, after Busch was embroiled in a legal battle with ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll through the first three races last season. Due to domestic assault allegations by Driscoll, Busch was suspended by NASCAR through the Las Vegas Sprint Cup race last March — forcing him to rebuild his public image and put any thoughts of returning to Indy on hold until his life found a renewed sense of stability.
Fast forward to February, 2016, where questions have again arisen as to whether Busch will take part in this year’s milestone running of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing”, and this time he’s not shying away from answering them.
“We are at Daytona and we are all focused on Daytona,” Busch said when asked about a potential return to Indianapolis during Tuesday’s Daytona 500 Media Day, “but I think once we get through Atlanta and that ‘West Coast Swing’ that we’ll have a better indication on if I am going to run (the Indianapolis 500) this year.”
“I have not talked to Michael lately but we have talked. It’s still out there. It’s on the backburner. There isn’t as much gas on the fire — the burner might not be running as hot as it was in 2014 to do the race — but the 100th Indianapolis 500 will be special. To be part of that with everybody in that 100th running [would] be great. Whether support came from Monster Energy or Haas Automation, there are pieces [to the puzzle] out there to make something happen again like we did two years ago. We will just have to wait and see how things play out.”
Busch admitted during the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour in January that while he has interest in being a part of the 100th running of the ‘500’, that momentum to make something happen has stalled somewhat compared to where it had been in prior talks.
However, he said that even at that point, the chance is not and has not yet been squelched.
“As more time goes by, it has plateaued,” Busch said. “It’s staying there. I get different time and moments where my interest spikes up.”
“I’ve seen deals come together as late as May 1st. My deal came together March 31st, so I don’t really have a drop-dead deadline on when to make a decision. [Nowadays] May 1st would be too late to put a deal together, but like I said — we put our deal in 2014 together in late March of that year, so there is still time.”
Before he can even consider a return to the Indianapolis 500 however, Busch must first complete this weekend’s Daytona 500, a race where the legendary Harley J. Earl trophy has eluded him in years past. Busch’s best finish is second (three times) in the ‘Great American Race’, including in 2008 when he pushed then-teammate Ryan Newman to the victory driving for Team Penske.
Despite being the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, Busch said his career would feel incomplete without a 500-mile win at ‘The World Center of Racing’, making this season’s race an all-out attempt at victory with no holds barred from the driver once known as ‘The Outlaw’.
“You want all those big trophies,” Busch said. “For me, I have been conservative in the Daytona 500 and have finished second three times. I have such a strong team this season, that I am not worried about points this weekend. I am worried about one thing — the trophy for the Daytona 500.”
For the 37-year-old Las Vegas driver, that competitiveness and no hold back attitude starts with being less conservative, especially when it comes to blocking this weekend.
“It is a matter of blocking more aggressively,” Busch explained. “It is taking risks on keeping guys behind you, instead of just following the guys in front of you. The conservative approach is to find a solid finish and to take advantage of other people’s mistakes versus controlling the race. I don’t have a Daytona 500 trophy, but I have a great team behind me, and I am feeling it this year.”
So while Busch’s heart may dream of another shot in an IndyCar, his eyes are, at least right now, focused on 200 laps upcoming on Sunday at Daytona — and not diverting anyone’s attention away from the task at hand in his No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Chevrolet SS.
“I would really love to [race Indy] again but I really have a lot of love for (crew chief) Tony Gibson and my guys at Stewart Haas Racing) and the amount of focus that 2015 gave to me in the stock car and I don’t want to take any of that away.”
And in the meantime, thoughts of that return trip to the hallowed grounds of Indianapolis will simply have to wait.
About the Writers
Marshall Gabell is the Mid-Atlantic Correspondent for Race Chaser Online, and was also formerly the public relations director for NASCAR Next member Austin Hill. Gabell is currently attending Stephen Decatur High School in Ocean City, Md., completing his sophomore year. He is just 15 years old.
Email Marshall at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow on Twitter: @MarshallGabell
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network. Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 22-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for both the United Sprint Car Series and the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
Email Jacob at: email@example.com
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