Let’s face it, sometimes it is easy to dislike Kurt Busch.
Throughout his somewhat controversial career, he’s been arrogant, volatile, rude, disrespectful, hot-tempered and more (actually, I’ve run out of words).
But then you probably know all of that.
At the same time, he’s a tremendously talented race driver with 24 career NASCAR Sprint Cup victories and a championship in 2004.
You probably knew that, too.
In spite of what Busch is, or may have been, I’m convinced he has stepped into a new light.
He has earned respect. He has gained a new appreciation from many fans and media members.
On May 25 Busch became the fourth driver to attempt what’s called the “double double.” He was going to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and then make the hectic trip South to race in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the longest race in NASCAR.
If Busch competed both races, he will have run 1,100 miles in one day.
It’s been achieved. In 2001 Tony Stewart completed both races and to this day holds the best record for 1,100 miles in a single day.
He was sixth at Indy and third at Charlotte.
Busch was the first driver since Stewart to attempt the feat.
At Indy it appeared Busch had learned his lessons well.
He finished a solid sixth in a Dallara Honda for Andretti Autosport. He earned a cool $423,889.“It was a challenge I put forth for myself,” Busch said. “I enjoyed it. I soaked it all in up North.
“I loved racing up in Indy in front of all the Indiana natives and the Hoosiers.
They love their speedway up there. That speedway loves them.
That’s what I really saw out of that track. There was a grand stage to stand on and represent NASCAR.
We brought her home in sixth place. I didn’t think I had anything for those top five guys.
They were racing hard. And those were the top five in that series. They’re strong. They’re tough.”
On his flight to Charlotte reports were Busch took an IV and tried to nap.
When he stepped out of the helicopter that took him to the track, Busch received a warm welcome from the grandstands.
No doubt many fans knew what he had accomplished at Indy.
The 600 did not go well for Busch. Driving his Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, he fell out of the race due to engine failure after 271 laps. He finished 40th.
What was yet another misfortune for SHR, which has struggled this season, meant disappointment for Busch. He completed 906.5 of 1,110 miles.
“We clawed our way up there and caught a lucky break with one of the yellows,” Busch said. “We worked on the car and I thought we were actually, you know, right in the mix.
“Those top 15 guys seemed to separate themselves.
We were going to start cracking on the top 10 if we could get one more adjustment done to the car.
“And then we had a problem on pit road. A car came at me perpendicular on pit road and it broke the left rear shock. And so we were hanging on.
“We were going to muscle it out. And then it’s like the car just swallowed three cylinders all at once. So, the engine let go. Those things happen in motorsports.”
Now there might have been a time when Busch would have expressed himself, shall we say, a bit more “forcefully.”
But not this time. It seemed he knew that, despite the Charlotte disappointment, he had accomplished a lot. He may well have had a feeling of self-satisfaction. – and deservedly so.
“I was hoping to do 1,100 miles today,” Busch said. “I can’t let what happened here dampen the mood on what happened up in Indianapolis.
“But it’s not just one individual. It takes a team. Andretti Autosport guys put me in a good car. Stewart-Haas gives me a great car every week.
We just had a monkey on our back in running NASCAR this year. “That kind of motor failure symbolizes some of the struggles we’ve had.”
At Charlotte, respect for Busch permeated the garage area and was expressed by many competitors.
It was the same for Stewart, John Andretti and Robby Gordon, the three who took on the challenge ahead of Busch.
And, importantly, just like them Busch earned it.
“Overall, I can stand here with a smile knowing I gave it my all for six months trying to get to this point,” Busch said.“I’d love to do it again.
“And at the same time, you’ve got to do it with quality teams. The teams really can make the big difference in all of this.
And I have to thank Andretti and I have to thank Stewart-Haas.”