INDIANAPOLIS -- Entering the Indianapolis 500, Kurt Busch hoped to finish on the lead lap and somewhere towards the front of the field.
Not an unreasonable expectation for a driver of his caliber, until you consider that Busch had never driven an open-wheel car in race conditions before and for the first time would be facing the challenging task of navigating a three-wide start, running in heavy traffic and live pit stops.
By any reasonable measure, Busch not only accomplished his goals but excelled Sunday, recording an impressive sixth-place finish at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"What an unbelievable experience," Busch said. "It was a dream come true to drive an Andretti Autosport car at Indy. I'm sure the car was a top-five car."
Kurt Busch prepares to make his debut at the Indy 500/Photo credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports
Beginning the day in the 12th position, Busch dropped down the running order in the early stages, acclimating himself with his surroundings -- a situation not made easy with the first 150 laps running caution-free.
Once comfortable, Busch gradually picked his way towards the front. And with a little more experience he may have seriously challenged for the victory Sunday considering a series of late yellows bunched the field.
"I was on edge on those final two restarts, making adjustments, trying to find (clean) air," Busch said. "I had to lift a little in Turn 2 all day. All in all, I'm very pleased."
The performance left Michael Andretti, Busch's IndyCar car owner, impressed.
"Proud to have him this month," Andretti said. "He did a really good job. He came in here with the right mindset. He came in with a lot of experience, but still coming in with the mindset of a rookie. Went to school and was a great student.
"You could tell the way he ran the first part of the race he fell back, but you could tell he was learning. When he started feeling confident, he started picking them off."
Busch told Andretti afterward that the car was better than the driver. It was a suggestion Andretti dismissed, saying Busch had "nothing to be ashamed of" and did great throughout the month.
"I think everybody on the team really liked having him," Andretti said. "Maybe we'll do it again sometime."
Busch's day was not over; in a way it was just beginning. Immediately following the conclusion of the Indy 500, he departed for Charlotte Motor Speedway to resume his full-time job as driver for the No. 41 Sprint Cup team for that evening's NASCAR race.
It took Busch approximately 90 minutes to land via helicopter in the Charlotte infield where he will continue his attempt to become just the second driver to complete all 1,100 miles of the Indy - Charlotte.
Having missed the required drivers meeting, Busch will start the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR's longest race, at the rear of the 43-car field.