The best case for a Busch Indy 500 run? A Haas Memorial Day triple
In 2014, Kurt Busch made waves - and headlines - for running the most recent attempt at “the double” between the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600.
In 2016, Busch could be the single link that makes “the triple” possible, if his schedule allows.
“The triple” can’t be accomplished by one driver, given the logistics of getting from Monaco, to Indianapolis, and then to Charlotte.
But “the triple” could be accomplished by one sponsor, which already has tentacles and teams established in two of the three and would only need the “Indianapolis as peanut butter” element to complete the other two slices of the sandwich.
Bottom line, Haas Automation has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be present in all three place of racing’s biggest weekend of the year, Memorial Day weekend, and a historical weekend at that.
Haas F1 Team’s going to be making its Monaco Grand Prix bow, with Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez present behind the wheel of the two Dallara chassis with Ferrari engines. Figure that’s going to be its biggest and most incredible Grand Prix to date, in its first few races of the season.
Haas, then, will have its usual end-of-weekend outing at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Coca-Cola 600. It’s a race that, surprisingly, has eluded Stewart-Haas Racing even though one of its drivers and past NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, Kevin Harvick, is a past winner. But the team’s never won the event; Harvick, Busch and Danica Patrick will hope to do so this year, as would whoever is in the team’s No. 14 car - unlikely but possible to be team co-owner Tony Stewart if he’s recovered, or whoever his injury fill-in may be.
In the middle stands Indianapolis, and not just any Indianapolis 500, but the 100th edition - a race that is almost something of a make-or-break for the Verizon IndyCar Series on both a national and international scale to raise awareness beyond its central Indiana base.
The Indianapolis 500 will need some sort of historical lineage to tie in its past and promote its future, because while the series itself is great on a week-to-week basis and has better stories within its 20-plus car field than you realize, it doesn’t have the same frequency of Formula 1 or NASCAR drivers - or teams - moonlighting in the event anymore.
This is a race that 50 years ago had a Formula 1 World Champion - the late Graham Hill - win the race. The prospect of F1 drivers competing today is limited to those who have been in F1 in the recent past. Max Chilton will be the newest example and with no disrespect to Chilton, who’s an affable, likable and talented enough young Brit who could surprise people this year, he’s no Graham Hill.
What better way for the Indianapolis 500 to stretch its borders and provide an international storyline than seeing Gene Haas’ name and brand stretched from Monaco to Charlotte, through Indianapolis?
It’s realistic because Haas is a smart enough individual to understand the magnitude of what he gets into.
The magnitude of a “Haas Triple Crown” is something that’s sellable not just for Haas Automation as an entity, but also for any sponsors who would theoretically want to leverage their brand across three of racing’s greatest races.
Where Busch fits into the equation is pretty simple. He’s the only NASCAR driver, outside of AJ Allmendinger, with recent IndyCar experience. He’d need to participate in a refresher test - likely to coincide with the Rookie Orientation Program - but wouldn’t need too much time to get back up to speed.
Of course, he’d also need a team landing spot, and that’s where you have to figure Haas wouldn’t back something that doesn’t have a realistic chance of winning.
Since the introduction of the Dallara DW12 base chassis in 2012, Target Chip Ganassi Racing, KVSH Racing, Andretti Autosport and Team Penske have been the four teams to win the Indianapolis 500.
Busch and Penske won’t happen as Penske’s inn is booked at four cars, and there’s the past history there that doesn’t need to be rehashed.
Theoretically, Busch could reunite with Andretti for what would be either a fourth or fifth car, but Honda’s number of engine leases might be closer to its projected number of 17 once all its extras are added than Chevrolet’s (there could be more Chevrolet leases available).
There’d also be the same, not impossible, but still hurdle of a Chevrolet driver in NASCAR running a Honda in IndyCar - and if Haas were to be the one footing the bill, it’s less likely he’d be as amenable to the option.
So when you get to the remaining Chevrolet teams, it leaves just four options: Ganassi, KVSH, Ed Carpenter Racing and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.
Ganassi, of those four, would provide Busch the best shot at a win and has experience running five cars, as it has recently.
That’s not to say it will again in 2016, but it could based on past history.
The fifth Ganassi car, each of the last two years, has been part of a technical alliance with another team - Sage Karam was a primarily DRR entry in 2014 but with some Ganassi assistance, while last year’s fifth car for Sebastian Saavedra was primarily Ganassi in partnership with AFS Racing.
Where the fifth Ganassi option fades, potentially, is if the team’s resources are stretched too thin in May. The Chip Ganassi Rallycross effort kicks off on qualifying weekend, May 21 and 22, in Phoenix. Additionally, the team’s two U.S.-based Ford GTs would be in transit to Le Mans ahead of the Le Mans Test Day, which occurs the Sunday of Detroit, June 5. Crews are separate but there’s usually crossover of crews between some of the Ganassi programs - notably IndyCar staffers working on sports cars at the Rolex 24 at Daytona - and such a situation would likely be needed here for an extra car.
KVSH has already announced an extra car - the PIRTEK Team Murray car for Matthew Brabham. Ed Carpenter at IndyCar Media Day said ECR would likely only be two for the Indianapolis 500 (but it could, in theory, add a third as the CFH Racing team did last year) and DRR is Indy-only for Karam again, although a second car is possible.
The bottom line, of course, is that if Haas sees the upside and the opportunity at his - and Haas Automation’s - disposal for this incredible chance, he’s got a driver and a shot to pull off a rare event in motorsports history.
The question now is whether Busch can fit it into his schedule once again, and if there’s a team that can find a way to land a helluva driver and his NASCAR team boss.