Rookie KURT BUSCH/No.26 Andretti Autosport Honda was the big story Monday on an otherwise very low-key day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Verizon IndyCar Series had added an additional five-hour on-track practice day to the otherwise already busy Indianapolis 500 race month schedule, so the teams could have a chance to do fuel tank runs.

Busch was practicing running in traffic, but was in a single-file line by himself on track at the moment when his car made a hard right side hit on the Turn Two SAFER barrier wall. The car showed flames, a wheel went careening up the track, while Busch landed down on the track. The Double Duty Rookie driver walked unaided to the ambulance. He later was cleared to drive after being examined and released from the IU Health Infield Medical Center.

IndyCar reported that Busch had just turned a 223.433 mph on his 56th lap of the afternoon. The car wiggled and Busch hit the wall – really hard.

The car itself was taken immediately to the team transporter, and all four other Andretti cars went to their respective garages. There was no one with whom the topic could be discussed as “everyone is in a big meeting right now.”

The No.26 car was Busch’s primary car. After some confusion regarding Busch’s options should the primary car be destroyed, clarification came from IndyCar.

“If a back-up car is required for Race Day, according to Rule of the Verizon IndyCar Series rulebook: If a Qualified Car is involved in a crash, the Entrant may replace the Qualified Car with another Car and start the Race in the Qualified Car’s position. If a Qualified Car is unable to start the Race for any other reason, INDYCAR shall determine if the Entrant is permitted to replace the Qualified Car with another Car and start the Race in the Qualified Car’s position or if the Entrant is required to start the Race from the rear of the starting field.”

Busch’s accident is only the second crash since Indy 500 practice began. In each case, the driver was unhurt. Rookie JACK HAWKSWORTH crashed on the second Indy 500 practice day in Turn Three in a solo car accident. His car was repaired, and he qualified thirteenth.

The session started at noon, and Busch’s hit was at 1:34 local time. A contingent of various types of emergency and safety vehicles responded and the caution lasted 18 minutes.

Busch said “I was starting to feel comfortable. That’s when I made the mistake of just letting my guard down or settling into that long run-type mentality whereas with an Indy car you have to be on edge. You have to keep track of where you are at all times and the adjustments in the car. Maybe I just didn’t keep up with keeping the car underneath me.”

Responding to the question about how it feels to crash before race day, Busch, who qualified 12th at 230.782 mph, said “I was trying to find that rhythm and pace myself as I would on Race Day, and I just got behind on the adjustments on the car. If you’re going to have (an incident) it’s better to have it early in the week so there’s time to work on the car, get back on your horse and get out there again. The car will need extensive rebuild (but) we do have Carb Day to shake things down and get back in the groove. This created a lot of work for the Andretti guys. I feel bad for that.”

The IndyCar schedule calls for the next on-track activity to be Friday – Coors Lite Carb Day, when IndyCars have one hour of practice 11 am-noon. The Andretti conglomerate has five IndyCars entered, plus two Indy Lights teams which practice and qualify on Thursday and race on Friday. So there is a pool of resources and manpower from which to draw.

Busch is scheduled to visit New York City on behalf of IndyCar to promote the race, with teammate, MARCO ANDRETTI. Another tradition – all 33 Indy 500 drivers go to major media markets and areas with IndyCar races – 19 different venues. Pole winner, ED CARPENTER and runner-up JAMES HINCHCLIFFE travel to Milwaukee. This happens on Tuesday, after Pole Day. This year it makes for a tight schedule as the Monday practice is new this year. And the drivers all have to be back at the track Wednesday afternoon to do autograph sessions.

Many of the drivers head for an area where they are known or live. All Rookies, save Busch, are going to Louisville to the baseball museum where the slugger bats are made. Given what I’ve observed over the years with Hinch and another upstart and talented driver, JOSEF NEWGARDEN, I’d send that pair to Comedy Central.

Besides pit stop practice and fuel runs, the drivers were getting experience running in packs and traffic. The speed isn’t as much of a concern as is getting race simulations. All thirty-drivers were on track.

There were several cautions, for debris.

Josef Newgarden
Josef Newgarden
Juan Pablo Montoya
Juan Pablo Montoya

The rest of the session was uneventful. By 3pm, most of the drivers had garaged themselves, and only a handful of cars remained on track. There were at least three different top drivers – Rookie MIKHAIL ALESHIN, JUAN PABLO MONTOYA, and JOSEF NEWGARDEN.

The fastest time of the day was 227.105 mph set by Newgarden on his thirty-second lap. JPM was second fastest, followed by SCOTT DIXON and Aleshin.

Newgarden said he was really glad he got to run as long as he did today. “I really needed it. We had today to get everything worked on. We cut short a couple of hours as we had some issues, but it was a good day. Carb Day is the time to check everything out, because with only an hour there is no time to work on things, just test them.”

Montoya was still unsure what happened to the way he rove and the car handled over the weekend. On Saturday it was a good car but didn’t go as fast as Sunday, when he could hardly control the car.

The boys agreed there was no Push To Pass options at the race, or on ovals. They posited on how it might be to go push, push push on the oval. They decided they didn’t need it.

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS ran the most laps – 125, finishing P22. Rookie MARTIN PLOWMAN ran the fewest laps = 24.three

No rest for the weary. Carpenter, Hinchcliffe and WILL POWER all had to be at The Brickyard at 7am for a Front Row photo op in the full morning sunshine on the row of bricks. It’s one of the many traditions. There will be another such Photo Op the Monday morning after the Indy 500, for the winner, team, etc. Lots of kissing the bricks and playing the hat game.

Wednesday, when the drivers return to the speedway, they’re in for a mega autograph session. The drivers will be divided into three groups, and rotate in and out of the Pagoda Pavilion. Fans line up well in advance for the coveted wrist bands for entrance, and they come with kids, photos and things to autograph. The drivers all have posters and/or hero cards to sign for those who come empty-handed. Thursday the Indy 500 drivers aren’t on track – that day is dedicated to the Indy Lights drivers, who practice and qualify for Friday’s race. The Indy 500 drivers do their round-robin media bull pen, in two groups, again in another part of the Pagoda Pavilion.