All eyes on Busch in 'Double' attempt
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Kurt Busch grew up glued to the TV, watching the Indianapolis 500 with his father, and he remembered the fervor caused in 1993 when Emerson Fittipaldi bypassed the usual celebratory post-race beverage for a swig of orange juice instead of milk.
''Oh, dad, I didn't know you had a choice. I'd drink OJ over milk,'' Busch said.
Tom Busch quickly set him straight: ''No, son. You drink milk.''
It was a crash course for a young Busch on a meaningful Indy lesson: Don't screw with tradition when everyone is watching.
''People got so upset,'' Busch said. ''It just goes to show how much people care about what you do at Indy.''
Fans certainly care this weekend about Kurt Busch and so do his fellow drivers. On Sunday, Busch will try to conquer the Mount Everest of motorsports by finishing all 1,110 miles of the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 in Concord, North Carolina, a race against the clock as much as the one to the checkered flags.
''I can't wait to watch and pull for him,'' NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. ''He's representing the entire sport. Whether he knows it or not, he's got a lot of people, drivers, crew and just about everyone on the infield pulling for him to do well because he is representing all of us.''
Busch has been auto racing's cover boy for more than a month and the networks are ready to roll for the first attempt at The Double since 2004. Fox will have a camera in place for his made-for-TV landing at Charlotte Motor Speedway, said Steve Craddock, Fox senior vice president of NASCAR Production.
''We'll take his story and see how far it goes,'' he said. ''It's a major story leading into the weekend for us.''
Whether it translates to the bank for the two series or the networks is an open question.
The Indy 500 is easily the most-watched race in IndyCar and the Coca-Cola 600 is traditionally a big Memorial Day weekend draw. Busch could likely put more eyes on the NASCAR race with a strong finish at Indy, which starts at noon Eastern and will be shown on ABC. An early wreck in the 500, and the Busch buzz will fade before the green flag drops at Charlotte six hours later.
''We have not really been promoting it, but we've been following along,'' CMS President and CEO Marcus Smith said. ''The media has really done the job of talking about it.''
Smith said there were ''special things'' planned for Busch at CMS should he complete all 1,100 miles. Busch's arrival by helicopter at Charlotte, just past the start/finish line, will surely make highlight reels. Fox will use a blimp to track Busch on his way to CMS. Texas Motor Speedway, jumping on the bandwagon, gave fans a shot at securing two front-stretch grandstand tickets to the June 7 IndyCar race for only $2 for correctly predicting Busch's finishes in the two races.
NBC will air an all-access look into Busch's doubleheader in a special June 8. NBC has good reason to be in the Busch business: NASCAR and NBC Sports Group reached a 10-year agreement that grants NBCUniversal exclusive rights to the final 20 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races and other live content beginning in 2015.
But it has really been Busch and his team spearheading the publicity. The Double wasn't promoted much at either speedway. No banners, no ads, no ''Home of the Double'' signs. Not even an ''Outlaw'' T-shirt at the Andretti Autosport merchandise hauler. The races in different series air on different networks, and Busch will drive for different manufacturers (IndyCar, Honda; NASCAR, Chevrolet) which has complicated a cross promotional blowout of the feat.
IndyCar, which scrambles most weekends for viewers, has enjoyed the Busch boost in May.
''For someone who loves the taxi cabs, I think he's done a great job in the car,'' said Derrick Walker, IndyCar's president of competition and operations. He also said IndyCar would accept drivers from any series to race in the 500.
''We're not, in IndyCar, so stuck up that we think we're the only guys that can do it,'' he said. ''We'd like to think the doors are open to all. The more variety, the better the competition. Hopefully, there's more than one or two NASCAR fans following these guys. I think if some of our guys went down there, we'd be watching, too.''
It took Busch almost 20 minutes to walk to the NASCAR truck and sign in Friday because drivers and crew chiefs wanted to know all about open-wheel life. Tony Stewart - his NASCAR boss, teammate and the only driver to complete The Double back in 2001 - is ditching pre-race obligations to monitor Busch at Indy.
''We've got everything canceled but one meet-and-greet so I can make sure I can watch every lap of it and keep an eye on what he's doing,'' Stewart said.
If Busch is successful, say, a pair of top-10 finishes, he may open the door for other drivers to give the doubleheader a go.
''Maybe one day, one of us will get that opportunity to see what it really is like,'' defending IndyCar champion Scott Dixon said.