In the 1992 Indy 500, Al Unser Jr. held off Scott Goodyear for the final seven laps to win by 0.043 seconds – the closest finish in the event’s history.
Among the millions watching ABC’s coverage of that duel was a teenaged Kurt Busch, whose love of IndyCar’s open-wheel racing was rivaled only by his fervor for stock car driving.
“That was a big memory for me,” Busch said during an ESPN “Car Wash” visit earlier this year. “I was 13 that year. That was a good, impressionable age where you absorb things.Those moments always stand still in time when you’re that age.”
This Sunday in Indianapolis, Busch – the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion – changes lanes as he competes in his first Indy 500 (ABC, 11 a.m. ET). But that’s just the start of his day, as Busch will attempt to complete a unique “double” by competing in the Coca Cola 600 that evening, flying to Charlotte, N.C. in time to make that 6 p.m. ET start.
Busch will try to become the first driver to complete the IndyCar-NASCAR 1,100-mile double since 2001, when his current NASCAR Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Tony Stewart did it.
Busch crashed his car during Indy 500 practice on Monday but plans to use an Andretti Autosport backup car on Sunday.
He will start 12th in the 500 — four spots higher than defending champion Tony Kanaan.
Busch and his brother, fellow NASCAR driver Kyle Busch, grew up in a auto racing family in Nevada. Watching ABC’s coverage of the Indy 500 – now in its 50th consecutive year – is a Busch family tradition that takes on special meaning this weekend.
Busch, 35, cherishes the memory of Unser’s close victory over Goodyear, now an ESPN analyst who will join commentator Allen Bestwick and analyst Eddie Cheever for ABC’s coverage on Sunday.
He also remembers watching Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi drink orange juice – instead of milk – to celebrate winning the 1993 Indy 500. Fittipaldi owned an orange grove so his choice of drink was somewhat understandable, but the sight of the driver eschewing Indy 500 tradition made an impression on the young Busch.
“He disrespected the milk that had been such a legendary tribute to Indiana,” Busch recalled. “I said,’Dad, why’d he do that?’ And he said, ‘Well, he’s not an American driver’.”
Fittipaldi’s success helped convince the teenaged Busch about the prestige associated with the Indy 500.
“You could see then that this is a world stage,” he said,”that the best of the best come to compete and challenge their skills from all different motor sports at the Indy 500.”
Busch counts Indy 500 veterans Stewart and Danica Patrick – who made history on ABC in 2005 when she became the first female to lead the Indy 500 – as NASCAR teammates.
What advice have they given Busch about competing in the Indy 500?
“Get control of your buddy list,” Busch said, chuckling.
Even though he’s tackling two auto races hundreds of miles apart on the same day, Busch said he will remained focused. Memorial Day provides inspiration.
“I’ll be driving, sentimentally, for our military with all the work I’ve done for the Armed Forces Foundation. I’ll use that internal drive to persevere and to give 100 percent for this event,” he said.