Kurt Busch ready for his NHRA debut

Kurt Busch is not the first NASCAR champion to become a professional drag racer.

When Busch opens Pro Stock qualifying today in the NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla., he will join the ranks of Richard Petty and David Pearson as NASCAR stars who ventured into quarter-mile racing.

Petty and Pearson competed in drag racing in 1965 to protest NASCAR's decision that year to ban their powerful Plymouth 426 Hemi engines.

NASCAR still won't allow the hemi in its series, but one will be under the hood of Busch's Dodge Avenger as he gets four chances over two days to qualify for one of 16 spots in Sunday's championship elimination rounds in the NHRA's most competitive division.

"This is just something to challenge myself (in) another discipline of motor sports," Busch said during last weekend's NASCAR event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. "It's four rubber tires and a racetrack, but it's night-and-day difference on how you have to be prepared for a drag race versus a NASCAR event."

Busch will race a car prepared by Pro Stock veteran Allen Johnson that Busch has proven he can handle at 210 mph in test sessions, including one early this week.

"The toughest part is staging the car and, of course, cutting a good light," Busch said of the starting-line tree. "The thrill of the launch and the speed at the top end is why I'm so fascinated with drag racing.

"But I do know that heading to the Gatornationals and running with the pros, I will get a full dose of humble pie."

■ SCHMIDT GROWS -- Sam Schmidt has announced another move deeper into the IndyCar Series every week over the past month.

The Henderson resident said this week that he will team with Rahal Letterman Lanigan racing to field a car for Jay Howard in the May 29 Indianapolis 500.

That will give Schmidt two cars in the field.

Schmidt acquired the FAZZT Race Team IndyCar operation in Indianapolis last week and will enter all 17 races with part-time Las Vegas resident Alex Tagliani as his driver.

Schmidt also will field Wade Cunningham in another car in at least four races, including the inaugural Oct. 16 Izod IndyCar Series World Championship finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Schmidt's operation also will field four teams in this year's developmental Firestone Indy Lights Series.