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Kurt Busch ready to race in Sunday's Indy 500, NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600

Auto RacingStock Car RacingOpen-Wheel RacingKurt BuschTony StewartIndianapolis 500Michael Andretti
Kurt Busch trying to become fourth racer to double at Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600

CONCORD, N.C. — Kurt Busch has always been a bit of a prickly pear. Maybe that's the best way to make some sense out this fruity adventure during a looooooong stretch of Sunday.

While most folks are settling into their beach chairs and popping open a frosty beverage to chill and celebrate the Memorial Day weekend, Busch will be completing a crazy circuit of planes, no trains and two automobiles.

It's the infamous double-double:

Driving in the Indianapolis 500 in the day, and then driving in NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the evening.

The most pertinent question seems to be: "Why?"

"I'm a racer," Busch said.

"This is a true test of what your commitment level is on being a racer."

True, this is no casual love affair. Busch will attempt to drive a total of 1,100 miles. He will have to scramble to make the NASCAR race after a 430-mile private plane flight. He will drive two completely different types of machines — open-wheel and a stock car.

Busch also will likely start at the back of the pack for the NASCAR race because he is expected to miss the drivers meeting about two hours before the start of the race. He'll be on a plane during that time, having IV fluids pumped into him to prevent dehydration.

It's easy to see why only four drivers have given this a shot: Robby Gordon, John Andretti and Tony Stewart, who now happens to be Kurt's boss at Stewart-Haas Racing.

Hopefully, Stewart has kept notes since 2001 when he combined for the best results of the bunch, finishing sixth at Indianapolis and third at Charlotte.

"It's going to be different because he's never raced one," Stewart said. "He's with a great team, though, and he's with great people. [Andretti Autosport owner and John's cousin] Michael Andretti is definitely a great choice to be with. Michael, being a driver and having run the 500, his experiences there are going to help Kurt."

But in the end, it's a solo ride at Indy, where Busch gets to learn on the fly at nearly 230 miles an hour.

"It hasn't been overwhelming, but at the same time each day in the Indy car I'm a student and I'm learning," Busch said. "How many times have we all told ourselves if I would have known now what I could have known then? The way to approach this is to have fun. I have zero IndyCar experience and I'm trying to elevate my game over there to be competitive. Yes, it's difficult."

At 35, Busch has the smarts and the savvy to give this a shot without any roll-of-the-eyes sniping. From his days as a go-kart racer in Nevada to his progression through the NASCAR ranks that includes a Cup title in 2004, Busch has become one of the best drivers on the circuit.

But he's also one of the most mercurial ones, losing his ride with Penske Racing after the 2011 season because of his frequent contentious post-race scrums with the media. But the fact that he qualified for the Chase while driving for a downsized operation in Furniture Row Racing in 2013 proves that Busch is all about talent. The tantrums only get in the way.

Busch also has earned considerable respect by becoming a strong ally of war veterans. Busch dedicates each race to a service member killed in action or who suffers from PTSD.

"I really like the work he is doing with the Armed Forces, and it says a lot about what's important to him more than anything he is doing on the racetrack," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. "He's doing some amazing work and making an impact. That's doing a lot for him — like it matters — in my eyes. I respect him a lot more because of that.

"The racing thing … hell, we all like to race, so I can understand his enjoyment of doing the Indy deal. I can't wait to watch and pull for him. He's representing the entire sport. Whether he knows it or not, he's got a lot of people, drivers, crew and just about everyone on the infield pulling for him to do well because he is representing all of us.''

Kurt Busch, NASCAR ambassador. Who knew?

gdiaz@tribune.com Read George Diaz's blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/enfuego

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