In a NASCAR world of sponsor titles, trademark companies and other proper nouns, what Kurt Busch really needed was bite-sized peanut butter and jelly sandwiches inside a clear plastic Ziploc bag.
Busch finished the first half of the longest day on the motorsports racing calendar by taking sixth at the Indianapolis 500 before jetting to Concord for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
His fortune didn’t transfer to North Carolina, though. A blown engine on Lap 271 ended his long day and he finished 40th. The dampened mood after the race was a stark divergence from the excitement before it.
“I’m running on an adrenaline high and Monster,” Busch said on pit road before the race, referring to his energy drink sponsor.
He kept reaching for the quart-sized bag for sandwich pieces on whole wheat bread, looking for more protein, vitamins, sugar and iron before embarking on the second leg of double duty.
He slapped a decal on his No. 41 car to dedicate the Coca-Cola 600 to three veterans battling post traumatic stress disorder, and then he took a bite.
Busch, known for his occasionally edgy personality, greeted media members warmly and shook hands with those who extended theirs, and then he took another bite. He participated in two prayers next to his car – not including the invocation – and grabbed one more square before stretching and hoisting himself into his car.
“I’m ready,” he said. “Am I 100 percent ready? We’ll find out.”
Busch promised to ignore the 500 miles he raced earlier in the day, but it’s tough to compartmentalize history. His sixth-place finish tied Tony Stewart for the highest finish in 10 tries by four NASCAR drivers in the Indianapolis 500.
Making the feat more exceptional was the fact that Sunday’s 500 was Busch’s first IndyCar Series race.
He climbed out of his open-wheel car at 3:17 p.m., left the track and boarded a private Cessna Citation to Concord Regional Airport. He received 11/2 bags of saline through an IV, 12 ounces of water and a 20-ounce cocktail of vitamins, potassium and beet juice at room temperature.
From the airport, a Bell 429 helicopter took Busch, his girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll, and her son, Houston, to the speedway.
The helicopter appeared above Turn 4 and u-turned over Turn 2 before descending on the grass in front of pit road at 4:50 p.m. Busch missed the 4 p.m. drivers’ meeting and thus had to start in the back of the field rather than the 28th spot he earned during qualifying.
Despite that, he worked his way to 13th before the midway point of the 600.
“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,” said Busch, who said a car hit his in the back and broke the left rear shock.
“We were hanging on. We were going to muscle it out, and it was like the car swallowed three cylinders all at once. So the engine let go.”
Busch raced 906.5 of the 1,100 miles he set out to do. He wasn’t 100 percent after the race, but he still was in pretty good shape.
“The way this race was coming to us, the cooler conditions tonight, my hands are a little sore, my feet are a little sore just from working it,” he said. “Overall I can stand here with a smile knowing that I gave it my all for six months to get to this point.”