Kurt Busch bungles badly in drag-racing debut

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Kurt Busch expected a "full dose of humble pie" during his professional drag-racing debut.

He got something way worse.

Busch botched both qualifying passes Friday at the NHRA Gatornationals, leaving him little room for error heading into his final two Pro Stock runs today.

"An interesting day to say the least," the Las Vegan said. "A lot of rookie things that I'm ready to put behind me. We've done this before. I've done testing, I know what to do, I know what to expect."

It sure didn't look that way.

The 2004 NASCAR champion smoked his tires on the first run, prompting him to shut down his 1,400-horsepower engine, and covered the quarter-mile strip in 18.334 seconds. It was the slowest time among the 21 competitors.

He made even more rookie mistakes during his second attempt. Busch failed to "stage" his dragster within the 7-second time limit and was essentially black flagged. Officially, he "timed out," and his run did not count.

"This has too much bitter in it because I'm the one making all the mistakes," Busch said. "This is definitely one of those scenarios where things move so fast when you're doing the burnout and staging."

Busch made other mistakes, too. He ground the gears while backing up after a burnout and nearly caught his car's parachute on a retention wall while turning off the strip.

"We had such an eventful day, there's no why we can screw up (today)," he said.

If he does, he probably won't make the 16-car field for Sunday's elimination rounds. With 12 cars already locked into the finals, Busch is among nine drivers vying for four spots today.

Busch expected to have some issues. After all, he doesn't have much experience in the straight-line sport. He bought a 1970 Dodge Challenger off eBay for $15,000, attended drag-racing school and got his first taste of the sport in Gainesville last year.

But heavy rain washed out much of his Sportsman class, so he decided he would get more opportunities as a pro. He got manufacturer backing, corporate sponsorship, tutoring from NHRA regular Allen Johnson and entered the Pro Stock division -- NHRA's third tier.

Since making the move, he tested for 10 days and made more than 50 runs. Few, if any, ended like the ones Friday.