Michael Andretti insists that he never had any concerns about Kurt Busch’s combative reputation when he signed the NASCAR star for this year’s Indianapolis 500.
Busch is aiming to become one of just a handful of drivers to have contested both the Indy 500 and NASCAR’s 600-miler at Charlotte on the same weekend. Despite his on-track success, which includes the 2004 Sprint Cup title, his career has also been plagued with controversy.
Among the most notorious was a verbal altercation with an ESPN reporter at Homestead in 2011 that was captured on video by a fan, an encounter that ultimately led to Busch’s split with Penske. Now driving for Stewart-Haas, he claimed his first victory since the incident at Martinsville this year.
Busch has worked to rebuild his reputation ever since and Andretti, who is running him in a fifth car at Indy, says that he was never worried about any potential for disruption within the Andretti Autosport team.
“I really like him; I think he is a really nice guy,” Andretti said. “I just think there was a bit of mismanagement. You’ve got to protect some people from themselves and not let cameras get in front of a guy when the adrenaline is still all the way up here.
“That’s all it was; it was nothing to do with anything else. I knew that as a driver – don’t talk to me right when I get out of the car. Your mind is not thinking clearly.
“I think it is unfair, the way he got treated with it, and the way some guys stuck a microphone in his face to try to make a story of it.”
Andretti revealed that his interest in working with Busch extended back to when he was working to put together a Cup team for 2013. The plans never got off the ground, but the seed was sown for the relationship that has culminated in Busch’s presence at IMS this month.
“We were talking about the NASCAR team that we were thinking of doing and he was going to come and drive for us,” Andretti said. “So we were starting things there.
“I think he is a true talent, and if we’d gone into NASCAR I couldn’t come up with a better driver to get you going with a new team. And that turned into the IndyCar project.”