2004 NASCAR Cup champion Kurt Busch was just a rookie Thursday morning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, taking his first laps around the famed oval in an INDYCAR. Busch drove the #1 Andretti Autosport INDYCAR of defending series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay.
"I'm just a kid in a candy store," said Busch after climbing out of the #1 car. "I have to pinch myself to know that this is Michael Andretti's INDYCAR. These guys are champions. To have a chance to drive a car here at Indy in the month of May is pretty special."
Busch is going through a simulated rookie orientation program like all first time drivers at the Speedway. He had no early problems getting the car up to speed over 200 miles an hour.
"Halfway through that second session we did, that's when things started to slow down," said Busch. "But that's still 10 miles an hour off pace. So you just have to graduate with the car and with the comfort level. It will help me respect the track more for an INDYCAR."
Busch received driver coaching from Andretti and INDYCAR driver James Hinchcliffe, who has won two of the four races this season.
"He came into it with a really open mind and was really receptive to the feedback we were giving him," said Hinchcliffe. "The guy's a natural. He jumped in, was comfortable right away, was eager to keep improving. He's doing a really good job.
The test laps raise speculation as to whether Busch would try to race in the Indianapolis 500 and the NASCAR night race in Charlotte on May 26th.
"This year would be tough with the way the schedule is laid out," said Busch. "I'm not pushing them to move things around. But it's tough logistically. For me, mentally as well as physically, I don't think that I'm prepared to run this month. Is this a 13-month journey, quite possibly."
So next year's Indianapolis 500 sounds like more of a possibility for Busch. His Furniture Row Racing team flew in from Denver, Colorado, to watch the test. The NASCAR Sprint Cup team is headed to Darlington, South Carolina, for Saturday night's race.
Busch has raced in the Brickyard 400 12 times with a best finish of 5th place.
"I do notice when I'm in the car that you just have less time to look at things," said Busch, comparing INDYCAR and stock car driving at the Speedway. "You are just focused on the race track. The biggest thing I see when I watch the Indianapolis 500 is how far ahead you have to anticipate. When you are the only car out there, it's fine. But when you throw other cars out there, there's no way to simulate that. That's when you see rookies have trouble is adjusting to the closure rate."
Fans are welcome to watch testing for free from the South Terrace grandstands and the Turn 2 viewing mounds adjacent to the IMS Hall of Fame Museum.
The test was scheduled to end at 12 noon but has been extended to 1:45 p.m. I'll have more reaction from Busch's INDYCAR test drive Thursday night on Eyewitness News at 5:50 p.m.
Also, Busch would like to start seeing drivers attempt The Double again.
Shortly after arriving at Andretti Autosport headquarters in Indianapolis on Wednesday, the 2004 Cup champion wasted no time in urging officials from the NASCAR and IndyCar series to compromise on the Memorial Day weekend start times to make it possible. He says fans want to see it.
Only three drivers have attempted to finish the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day: John Andretti, Robby Gordon and Tony Stewart. Busch has visions of becoming the fourth man to attempt it.