The Double – It’s Not a Hamburger
This past Memorial Day weekend, Kurt Busch took on what many call the most grueling day in racing. He competed in the pair of races known as The Double – sometimes called Double Duty, The Memorial Day Double, or The Indy-Charlotte Double. They all mean the same thing: A racecar driver of exceptional abilities attempts to successfully complete all laps in The Indianapolis 500 (IndyCar Series) and The Coca-Cola 600 (NASCAR Sprint Cup Series) – on the same day! The tracks are in Indianapolis, Indiana, and Charlotte, North Carolina, 430 miles apart. That’s 1100 miles of teeth-grinding, white-knuckle, mentally and physically exhausting racing in one day, punctuated by a 1-hour flight.
Only four drivers have attempted The Double: Kurt Busch, Robby Gordon, Tony Stewart, and John Andretti. Andretti was the first to attempt the same-day test of endurance, in 1994, but blew his engine on lap 220 at Charlotte. Robby Gordon tried five times, but never completed both races. In 2001, Tony Stewart became the only driver to finish all laps in both races, with an amazing 6th-place finish at Indy and 3rd at Charlotte.
The other three drivers who attempted The Double had previous experience racing F1/Indy-style racecars. In fact, Tony Stewart was the 1997 Indy Racing League champion. But this was Kurt Busch’s first time competing in an open-wheel car – a completely different type than his usual Cup Series ride, with a completely different feel, and requiring different driving techniques.
Busch astonished everyone by driving to a 6th-place finish at Indy, in a backup No. 26 Dallara-Honda for Andretti Autosport (a crash in practice took out the primary car). A plan involving some tricky logistics then kicked into gear to get the dog-tired driver to the Charlotte track to do it all over again.
Following the afternoon Indy race, an infield helicopter whisked Busch to the airport for a private flight to the evening race in Charlotte – a flight that likely involved a physician, a medical checkup, and plenty of IV fluids! When the plane landed, Busch was hustled from the airport by helicopter to the Charlotte track infield – just in time for a few preliminaries, and to stuff himself into the driver’s seat for the start of the race. He arrived at Charlotte ready to go.
It was a remarkable effort, but victory was not to be. Because he was in Indianapolis at the time, Busch could not attend the Sprint Cup Series driver meeting. So, in accordance with the rules, he started the 400-lap Coca-Cola 600 from the rear of the field. During the race, Busch climbed as high as fifth, but on lap 216, the No. 17 car clipped him on Pit Road, damaging the Haas Automation No. 41’s right rear. On lap 225, the No. 41 dropped a cylinder, so Busch coaxed it along until the engine blew on lap 271, ending his historic effort. He finished the night in 40th position, 129 laps short of completing The Double.