DARLINGTON, S.C.—When the air hit him in the face on the backstretch at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Kurt Busch knew he was in for a treat.
Busch went through rookie orientation in an IndyCar on Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, pushing his Andretti Autosport ride to 218 mph, nearly 32 mph faster than Casey Mears’ Sprint Cup track qualifying record of 186.293 mph.
“Right away, pulling out on the back straightaway, open cockpit, the air’s hitting me in the face, when I’m doing 150, I’m like, ‘This is a different world,'” Busch said Friday morning at Darlington Raceway. “Then that settled in, and then it was the rookie orientation program where you work up your speed, and it was the first time where I said, ‘You ready?’ and I’m talking to myself on holding it wide open through a corner.
“That’s when the game changes. That’s when you cross into a threshold that really challenges you as a driver.”
Though Busch described the experience as a bucket-list item, it wasn’t just for amusement. Busch has already discussed the possibility of running an IndyCar race this year with owner Michael Andretti, assuming the schedule and his obligations to the Furniture Row Racing Cup car would allow it.
One possibility is the IndyCar season finale at Fontana, Calif., scheduled for the night before the Chase for the Sprint Cup race at Talladega.
“We haven’t really zeroed in on which race,” Busch said. “Pocono’s an option. Milwaukee’s an option. Fontana—when I talked to (Andretti Autosport driver James) Hinchcliffe, he’s like, ‘Well, that’s a two-to-three-lane track. That would be your best chance of not running into anything and staying out of the way.’ Honestly, you can’t expect to go in there and run top 10 right away, but if you’re doing it with Andretti, you’re going to have the best chance to run well.
“Today we’re here at Darlington with our Cup car, and we have three hours of practice to get it dialed in for the Southern 500. When there’s time, we’ll sit down and have discussions about what could happen in the open-wheel world.”
Whatever happens, driving an IndyCar at the fabled Brickyard was an eye-opening experience for the 2004 Cup champion.
“The speed is really interesting, because there’s no deceleration with an IndyCar,” Busch told the NASCAR Wire Service. “You’re just at constant speed the whole time. With a Cup car, you have to let off the gas, slow down for the corner. You have that deceleration rate, (and) that big heavy car doesn’t want to turn.
“Driving the IndyCar there at speed, full-throttle all the way around, gave me more of an appreciation for the track and the allure and the demands that it puts on a team and a driver with an open-wheel car at Indianapolis. It was quite the experience.”
It was also a successful experience. Busch earned his IndyCar credential and license during the rookie orientation.