(SportsNetwork.com) - Kurt Busch has a lot of drive time ahead of him within the next couple of weeks, as he readies himself for an attempt to run in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on May 25.
After finishing 29th in Saturday night's 400-mile Sprint Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway, Busch headed to Indianapolis Motor Speedway to begin a weeklong of practice sessions for the Indy 500. Busch, who is driving the No. 26 Suretone Entertainment-sponsored, Honda-powered car for Andretti Autosport, made a total of 31 laps around this famed 2.5-mile oval during Sunday's initial Indy 500 practice.
Busch's best lap was clocked at 220.352 mph, which placed him 12th on the charts. Will Power from Team Penske had the quickest lap in the session at 223.057 mph.
Monday's session has been interrupted by rain, but drivers had some time on the track before the inclement weather. As of mid-afternoon, Busch made 40 laps, with his best one at 219.728 mph (16th on the charts).
Busch tested at IMS on April 29 and then participated in the Indy 500 rookie orientation program on May 5, but Sunday was his first opportunity to run in a pack of cars. He ran with his Andretti teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2012 IndyCar champion, Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe and Carlos Munoz, a rookie this year.
"It was a nice rookie day to go and play in traffic," Busch said. "When your parents tell you to go out as a kid and play in traffic, they try to get rid of you. The Andretti Autosport guys said that it's time to ramp up where we are with your level, and that's to get into some dirty air and feel the car behind other cars.
"So it was a nice shakedown. The second run out was a baseline run, and the third time out was to follow around Ryan Hunter-Reay, a champion. That's helping me. It's really nice to have his lead. Carlos Munoz was in our pack as well as E.J. Viso. It's nice to have the teammates looking back in their mirrors for me and to help out."
Viso is substituting for Hinchcliffe in practice. Hinchcliffe suffered a concussion when he was hit by flying debris during Saturday's IndyCar race on Indianapolis Motor Speedway's road course. He will not be able to return to his driving duties until medically cleared.
Busch, the 2004 champion in NASCAR's premier series, will try to become just the fourth driver to compete in the Indy 500 and the 600-mile Sprint Cup event at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the same day. John Andretti, Tony Stewart and Robby Gordon have accomplished the feat. Stewart, who is the co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, the team that Busch drives for in Sprint Cup, is the only one who has completed all 1,100 miles of racing, finishing sixth in the 500 and third in the 600 on May 27, 2001.
Last year, Busch had thoughts of racing in the Indy 500. He passed the rookie orientation for the event, putting into motion the possibility of doing the double, but he eventually chose not to enter it.
In early March, Busch and team owner Michael Andretti announced that Andretti Autosport would field an entry for Busch in this year's Indy 500. It's been a decade since a driver has done the Indy-Charlotte double (Gordon).
"It's not like I'm putting my career or my credentials on the line to prove anything," Busch said. "This is a moment to check off something on the bucket list, but also to challenge myself to see where I can end up in this open- wheel rank at one of the most difficult races in the world."
Since his announcement of attempting the double, Busch has been working out extensively to improve his upper-body strength.
"I've bulked up a little bit just with muscle mass," he said. "I've gained about three pounds. It's been a noticeable slight difference."
Busch noted that his hands were very sore from the grip of the wheel after each of the rookie test sessions for the Indy 500.
The 35-year-old Busch will certainly be busy this coming weekend, traveling between Indianapolis and Charlotte. Qualifying for the Indy 500 is a two-day event, scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race as well as qualifying for that event are slated for Saturday night at Charlotte. Busch became eligible for the all-star race by winning at Martinsville seven weeks ago.
"We have a pretty straightforward schedule on the IndyCar side," he said. "It's very different than our scheduled practices in stock-car-land. What's happening on the IndyCar side is the track is hot every day from 12:00 to 6:00 p.m. So I'm on call every day, 12 to 6 p.m.. Andretti Autosport has their sequence of schedule on when we're going to go out on the track, and that's been given to me. And we have more time than we do tires over there on that side of the garage.
"We have our practice sessions all planned out already. So it's neat to have a mind-set to know where we'll be and what needs to be done on both sides of the garage area. Mother Nature ultimately is in change. She is dishing out a little bit more of a percentage chance of rain early in the week (in Indianapolis). And then it's cool conditions with very consistent conditions Friday and Saturday."
Busch should have no problem making the 33-car starting field for the Indy 500 since there are currently 33 drivers on the entry list for this race.
IndyCar recently changed the qualifying format for the Indy 500. It now features three rounds of time trials over two days. The entire 33-car field, including the pole winner, will be determined on Sunday.
No matter where Busch qualifies, he is very much looking forward to competing in his first Indy 500.
"It's going to be a lot of fun, but I'm just back to being a student, and it's a whole different world when you're a student," he said.