The opportunity to be a spectator at any major sporting event can be an awe-inspiring occasion. Surrounded by tens of thousands of like-minded fans cheering for a common goal creates an adrenaline-filled experience for competitors and spectators alike. Elite sporting events such as the Super Bowl and the World Series inspire an even more electric atmosphere for the simple reason that they are historic.
Now, take that major sporting event and place it on the hallowed grounds of one of the nation’s most revered venues and the atmosphere becomes more than just a game, but also a moment in time. While a handful of such venues have gone to the wayside, many of the nation’s older venues continue to thrive in today’s sports world. A simple Google search yields a variety of top lists featuring some of the nation’s most storied locations.
From Wrigley Field in Chicago and Fenway Park in Boston to Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., and Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., these historic sites could be considered national landmarks for what they have meant to sports history and the competitive landscape that fans know today.
Certainly a fixture in most all listings of top-10 historic sports venues is Indianapolis Motor Speedway – site of Sunday’s Brickyard 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. The famed, 2.5-mile oval has been in existence for more than 100 years and has hosted more than 250 races since 1909. For most of its existence, Indianapolis had been an open-wheel series track, but that changed when the Sprint Cup Series first started competing there for the annual Brickyard 400 in 1994. This weekend, the drivers of the NASCAR Nationwide Series will for the first time know the thrill of competing at and crossing the famed yard of bricks with the running of the inaugural Indy 250.
Driver Kurt Busch competed in his very first Brickyard 400 during his rookie season in 2001 and this weekend will be part of the cast competing in the track’s first-ever Nationwide Series race. An avid sports fan himself, the significance of competing at Indianapolis is not lost on the 2004 Sprint Cup Series champion. Having been to Indianapolis as both a competitor and a fan, the driver of the No. 51 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet understands the importance of being able to compete at the famed track.
Busch has made 11 career starts at Indianapolis and scored his best finish there during his very first Indy start, finishing fifth after starting 34th in 2001. He has scored a total of four top-10 finishes during that 11-year stretch and has been running at the end of all 11 races, aside from one which was the result of an accident during the 2002 race.
While he is still looking for his first career Brickyard 400 win, Busch will have two opportunities to become a victor at Indianapolis this weekend. Busch has scored two wins in Nationwide Series competition this year with victories at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway in May and Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway earlier this month.
The history books of Indianapolis once again will add a new chapter this weekend, and Busch and the No. 51 Phoenix Racing team look to add themselves to the track’s lore and have their names forever linked.
KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 51 Phoenix Construction Services Chevrolet for Phoenix Racing:
You’ve been to some pretty historic places like Fenway Park, Wrigley Field and Soldier Field. Where does the Indianapolis Motor Speedway stack up against those other hallowed sports venues?
“It’s that same feeling of going to places like Wrigley and Soldier Field. I’ve been on the grandstand side in turn one and, when I walked up there and felt that nostalgic feeling, and it makes you think, ‘Alright, this place was built back in the early 1900s and this grandstand section is probably at least 70 years old, depending on if and when it was updated.’ There is an old, nostalgic feel of a place with history, a place of importance, and you take in those moments. I went and watched the Formula 1 race there. I’ve seen the start of the Indy 500 there. It’s just a very, special and unique place. My first time making a lap around there, I was captivated by the fact that I was racing at the Brickyard. Then, on lap two, I was back in the moment and was like, ‘I have a job to do.’”
What are your thoughts heading into this weekend’s race at Indianapolis?
“Indianapolis is tough. It’s been a tough place for me but it became even more of a challenge when they did the diamond cutting of the track. It’s just hard trying to find the balance you need that works at the beginning and will get you to the end of the race. We tend to have long, green-flag runs there and, for some reason, it has just been a track where I’m still trying to figure out the nuances you need to have a proper-handling car that gets around there and is fast.”
How will it be running the Nationwide Series car there this weekend?
“It’s obviously a great opportunity for that series to compete on one of the most storied racetracks in the country and in the world. It will definitely be a big moment for the series. (Team owner James) Finch is always all about the superspeedway events with the races at Daytona and Talladega but, when they added the Brickyard to the Nationwide Series schedule, it became another race that we felt like we had to do with the No. 1 Phoenix Racing Chevy. I haven’t had the best of luck in the Sprint Cup cars there, so we’ll double our chances of getting a win there this weekend with the Nationwide Series race.”
Are you ready for the final stretch of 17 races to the finale?
“It’s been a long season and this final stretch of races can be tough. Fortunately, we’re coming off of a week off, so that helps a little with getting a little refresher to kind of get mentally prepared for the race to the end. The other thing is, we’ll be visiting some places that are a little closer to home, so that helps, as well. But yeah, it’s a tough stretch, but it’s the same for everyone.”