Dale Jarrett was the first to do it in 1996. Jimmie Johnson did it in 2006. Jamie McMurray was the most recent to do it in 2010.
It is winning the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 in the same season. And Kurt Busch, winner of this year’s Daytona 500 and driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing, is poised to become the fourth driver to double up as the 24th running of the Brickyard 400 takes place Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Busch won the season-opening Daytona 500 by leading the only lap the mattered – the last one. His single lap at the front of the field in NASCAR’s biggest race delivered his 29th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win and his first Daytona 500 victory in 17 tries. It was also his first win in a restrictor-plate race after 63 previous point-paying starts at Daytona and its sister track, Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
Those numbers prove that perseverance pays, and as Busch gets set for his 17th start in the Brickyard 400, perseverance will again be needed.
Despite completing 92.1 percent of the laps available to him, Busch has only one top-five finish and five top-10s in his 16 previous Brickyard 400 starts. And of Busch’s 8,867 total laps led during his 17-year and counting NASCAR Cup Series career, only three have come at Indianapolis.
That doesn’t mean Busch hasn’t enjoyed success at Indianapolis.
In 2014, Busch stepped out from his stock-car norms and into the world of INDYCAR, competing in the 98th Indianapolis 500 for Andretti Autosport. The first-time Indycar driver looked like a veteran on the historic, 2.5-mile rectangle, starting 12th and finishing sixth to claim rookie-of-the-year honors. And to add another degree of difficulty to the day, Busch did what only three other drivers had done before – perform The Double by racing in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway that evening.
More than 10 years before doing The Double, Busch secured a championship at Indianapolis. It was 2003 and Busch was selected to compete in the 12-driver International Race of Champions (IROC) for the first time in his career. IROC ran for 30 years and pitted race-winning and championship-winning drivers from all different motorsport disciplines in the same racecars to determine a best-of-the-best victor in a four-race series that began in February at Daytona and culminated in August at Indianapolis. Busch finished second at Daytona and then won the series’ next race at Talladega. He went on to finish third in July at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois, and arrived at Indianapolis locked in a title battle with eventual five-time IROC champion Mark Martin. Busch finished fourth in the IROC finale while Martin finished fifth, giving Busch an 11-point edge over Martin and the IROC championship.
Those accolades bolster Busch’s chances at Indianapolis, a flat and fast track built for high-downforce Indycars that in May hosted its 101st Indianapolis 500.
That doesn’t mean big, heavy stock cars can’t navigate this hallowed ground. Speeds in qualifying for last year’s Brickyard 400 easily topped 180 mph, showcasing a driver’s will and tenacity alongside his crew’s ingenuity and attention to detail.
Tony Gibson, crew chief for Busch and the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation team, knows what it’s like when the driver connects with his racecar. Gibson was the car chief for Jeff Gordon at Hendrick Motorsports from 1999 through 2001. The powerhouse team won 16 races in those three years and clinched the 2001 NASCAR Cup Series championship. Among those wins was a Brickyard 400 triumph in 2001, where the chassis adjustments and shock and spring combinations created by renowned crew chief Ray Evernham were executed by Gibson.
With Gibson in his corner and Roush-Yates horsepower underneath the hood of his Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion, Busch is ready to double up by doubling over to kiss the bricks Sunday at Indianapolis.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
You’ve had success at Indianapolis, but not in NASCAR. What makes the track so difficult?
“Indianapolis has been tough on me over the years. I don’t know what it is about it. The diamond-cut surface, the way that the asphalt is very fresh when we first get there and then how it glazes over and gets slick at the end – I’ve struggled with that over the years. Just got to pace ourselves and find the right combination on our Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford that will give us the grip once the track gets rubbered in.”
What makes Indy such an iconic venue?
“Indy is Indy. It’s the coolest racetrack that we get to race on, other than Daytona. The history, the prestige, the value of Indianapolis – it is defined by the number of decades they have produced races there and the atmosphere. It’s very electric at Indianapolis. For me to actually get to run the Indy 500 in the month of May is a little different than when we race there in July because of the fact it is their backyard, it is their stage. Those Indiana natives love their track. What makes Indy special is the people.”
You competed in the Indianapolis 500 once. Any chance you’ll do it again?
“Possibly. I really enjoyed my time there. It was a great challenge, personally, and just the overall experience of going 230 mph in an open cockpit car was fun. The fun meter was pegged. The achievement of finishing sixth overall was exciting. But then there’s that 1,100 miles. I didn’t quite finish the Coke 600 that night due to an engine failure. That’s what would draw me back in – to try to get all 1,100 miles in.”
How hard is it to drive a stock car at Indianapolis?
“You’re asking the wrong guy about driving a stock car at Indy. I’ve struggled. I finished fifth my first time there and I’ve never been able to back that up. Then I go there for the first time in an Indy car and I finish sixth. I’m not really sure. The stock cars are tough in traffic. They always end up on the tight side. And you have to find that right restart lineup lane. Usually, the cars that win there, they’re the dominant type. They lead laps. They’re up front all day. I haven’t quite found that right combination yet, but another Brickyard 400 means another opportunity.”