Endurance is a concept with which competitors in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series are well acquainted. Every race run on the Sprint Cup schedule tests the endurance of its drivers, whether they’re racing 300, 400 or 500 miles. That weekly test gets a little more aggressive as the series prepares for its own “marathon” of races with Sunday’s running of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.
The 2015 edition of the Coca-Cola 600 marks the 56th running of NASCAR’s longest race. Aside from the distinction of being the longest race on the schedule, the 600 is also one of the most prestigious events on the circuit due in no small part to its durability implications – it’s a race that tests man and machine.
Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), is among the drivers who have met the challenges that come with competing in the 600, winning the 2010 version of the annual Memorial Day-weekend race. After just missing out on the pole, Busch started second and wasted no time jumping to the lead. He took over the top spot on lap 12 and led the next 40 laps before surrendering the lead briefly for a round of green-flag pit stops. Busch owned the lead 12 different times for a race-high 252 laps, including the final 19. With the win, he became the seventh driver in series history to follow a victory in the Sprint All-Star Race with a win in the 600 a week later.
Sunday’s running of the 600 will be very different than the last one for the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, as his focus will lie solely on his efforts at Charlotte and capturing his second win at the home track for most of NASCAR’s teams. This time last year, Busch was deep into his attempt at “The Double” – racing in both the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the 600 at Charlotte on the same day.
Busch finished sixth in the 98th Indianapolis 500, becoming the first NASCAR driver to win the Indy 500’s top-finishing rookie honors since Donnie Allison in 1970. Busch’s finish was not only the top result of the 500’s 2014 rookie class , but also tied SHR teammate and co-owner Tony Stewart’s 2001 record for the best finish of the four drivers who have attempted The Double. Unfortunately, Busch’s efforts to become just the second driver to successfully complete the 1,100 miles of racing on the same day came to an early end later that evening at Charlotte as the No. 41 Chevrolet suffered an engine failure 129 laps short of the race distance.
Prior to sweeping the 2010 All-Star Race and Coca-Cola 600, Busch’s best finish at Charlotte was a second-place effort during the fall race in 2005. In total, Busch has scored one win, six top-five finishes and seven top-10s in 29 career starts at the 1.5-mile track. Much like runners preparing for a marathon, Busch explains that it was a matter of time before he learned to speak the language of the finicky track. Although temperamental Charlotte will always present its challenges, learning to balance the marathon aspect of the 600 is a key component to finding success.