There’s a scene in the iconic stock-car movie “Days of Thunder” that takes place the night before the big race — the Daytona 500, if memory serves — in which Robert Duvall talks to Tom Cruise’s car. Duvall was cast as crusty crew chief Harry Hogge; Cruise as brash young driver Cole Trickle.
Harry tells the No. 51 car that he has given it an engine low to the ground, an extra thick wind-cutting oil pan, 30 or 40 extra horsepower, a fuel line that will hold an extra gallon of gas, a chassis that has been shaved a half-inch. You’re primed, painted, ready to go, Harry tells the No. 51.
If he did all those things in real life, Harry Hogge the crusty crew chief would be suspended by NASCAR for cheating.
Anyway, in the movie, Harry tells the No. 51 car that he has set it up for cool weather. But if the sun comes out, the car is likely to get loose in a hurry. Harry tells the car it cannot get out of control and expect brash young Cole to bring it back under control; he tells the car it must take care of his driver out there on the racetrack.
I wonder if in a darkened garage in Gasoline Alley at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday night, Kyle Moyer, director of racing operations for Andretti Autosport, had a similar conversation with the No. 26 IndyCar.
Today is the day brash Kurt Busch of Las Vegas attempts to become the first lead foot in a decade to drive in the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600, where he’s much more comfortable, on the same day. Like in the movies, there’s a certain amount of drama to it.
One auto racing writer compared it to going 12 rounds with Floyd Mayweather Jr. during the afternoon and running the Boston Marathon at night.
And that was before Busch’s pursuit got a lot more dramatic in practice Monday at Indianapolis. While turning laps in a big pack of cars at 223 mph, the No. 26 wiggled going into Turn 2.
A wiggle at those speeds is all it takes to turn one’s world upside down.
While Busch’s world was not turned upside down, the No. 26 car smacked the wall and momentarily caught fire. It was a pretty big hit. Perhaps the engine wasn’t low enough to the ground.
“That shows my inexperience with the IndyCar, for sure,” Busch said after walking away from the crash.
It makes you wonder if the confidence acquired by topping 230 mph in practice runs and qualifying a respectable 12th on the grid, best among the rookies, took a pretty good hit, too.
Eddie Cheever, who raced in Formula One and won the Indy 500 in 1998 before joining the ABC broadcast team that today marks its 50th anniversary at the hallowed 2.5-mile oval, doesn’t think so.
“He’s been incredibly fast,” Cheever said on a conference call. “Every hurdle he got to, other than (Monday), when he got very lucky and hit the wall at the right (read: forgiving) angle. Other than that, I am just impressed.
“When he had to go out and do his qualifying run, that’s 230, that is really moving the mail. He went and did it as if he’s been doing it his whole life.”
Cheever said three words that come to mind when discussing Kurt Busch are “talented” and “incredibly brave.”
“If he digests this last hit he had — it took me a long time to digest — if he can go through that (and) he’s in that leading group at the end of the race, I would consider him a possible top-three finisher — if he gets through all the problems during the race,” Cheever said.
Busch said it would be great if he gets through all the problems during the race at Indy and completes all 500 miles and, after hopping a private jet and consuming mass quantities of Monster Energy, he gets through all the problems during the race at Charlotte and completes all 600 miles there, too.
That would make him just the second man to do it. He would join his NASCAR car owner, Tony Stewart, who finished sixth at Indy and third in Charlotte in 2001, in completing all 1,100 miles of “The Double.”
Afterward, Stewart asked that a cot and warm glass of milk be sent to the garage area.
Busch is a polarizing figure on the NASCAR circuit, but he’s a tough old school racer, like A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti and Parnelli Jones were, and Cale Yarborough, and the Allison brothers, Bobby and Donnie, were back in their day.
These were hardened men who smoked cigarettes without filters. They raced IndyCars and stock cars and just about anything else with four wheels, and there wasn’t anything the sponsors or the people in the NASCAR hauler could do or say to stop them.
Today, if the racing gods are willing, and the walls and the other drivers don’t get in his way, Kurt Busch will become one of those hardened men, too. Except for the cigarettes.
The No. 26 car at Indianapolis and the No. 41 car at Charlotte are primed, painted, ready to go. I am sure their engines are as low to the ground as the rules will allow.
So keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel, Kurt Busch. Here’s hoping you go to the roadhouse and have a real good time.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.