Kurt Busch botches qualifying to start drag-racing career

CBSSports.com wire reports

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Kurt Busch expected a "full dose of humble pie" during his professional drag-racing debut.

He got something way worse.

Busch botched both qualifying passes Friday at the NHRA Gatornationals, leaving him little room for error heading into his final two runs Saturday.

"An interesting day to say the least," Busch said. "A lot of rookie things that I'm ready to put behind me. We've done this before. I've done testing, I know what to do, I know what to expect."

It sure didn't look that way Friday.

The 2004 NASCAR champion smoked his tires on the first run, prompting him to shut down his 1,400-horsepower engine, and covered the quarter-mile strip in 18.334 seconds. It was the slowest time among the 21 competitors.

He made even more rookie mistakes during his second attempt. Busch failed to "stage" his dragster within the 7-second time limit and was essentially black flagged. Officially, he "timed out," and his run did not count.

"This has too much bitter in it because I'm the one making all the mistakes," Busch said. "This is definitely one of those scenarios where things move so fast when you're doing the burnout and staging."

Busch made other mistakes, too.

He ground the gears while backing up after a burnout and nearly caught his car's parachute on a retention wall while turning off the strip.

"We had such an eventful day today, there's no why we can screw up tomorrow," he said.

If he does, he probably won't make the 16-car field for Sunday's elimination rounds. With 12 cars already locked into the finals, Busch is among nine drivers vying for four spots Saturday, when he will get two more passes to turn things around.

Busch expected to have some issues. After all, he doesn't have much experience in the straight-line sport. He bought a 1970 Dodge Challenger off eBay for $15,000, attended drag-racing school and got his first taste of the sport in Gainesville last year.

But heavy rain washed out much of his Sportsman class, so he decided he would get more opportunities as a pro. He got manufacturer backing, corporate sponsorship, tutoring from NHRA regular Allen Johnson and entered the Pro Stock division - the NHRA's third tier of drag racing.

Since making the move, he tested for 10 days and made more than 50 runs.

Few, if any, ended like the ones Friday.

His first error created problems the rest of the day. He was in the first pairing and seemingly didn't know the track would have as much grip as it did, so his crew had the wrong clutch setup. That caused the tires to shake right off the starting line.

He shut have stayed on the gas pedal, figuring other would have similar problems and go for the best time possible. Instead, he shut the car down and coasted through the quarter-mile with a top speed of 36.43 mph.

His poor showing left him the first pairing again in the afternoon session and with little feel for track conditions.

"I dug the hole in the beginning and dug it again having to go out early," Busch said.

Nonetheless, his problems this time had nothing to do with the asphalt. Busch mistakenly watched the driver in the other lane, Vincent Nobile, instead of the starting tree. By the time he looked up at the tree and started to inch toward the starting line, he had eclipsed the allotted staging time.

Busch still made his run, a 6.53-second pass that would have put him in 12th or 13th position. Even though he had a little tire shake and was late shifting into third gear, the pass was the only positive part of an otherwise forgetful pro debut.

"Hopefully nobody paints my back bumper yellow," Busch said, referring to how rookies get designated in NASCAR.

Copyright 2015 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

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