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Kurt Busch starting to get comfortable in IndyCar digs as testing begins at speedway

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INDIANAPOLIS - Kurt Busch is starting to feel comfortable in his new IndyCar.

He knows all the buttons in the cockpit, he knows how the wind feels as he speeds around Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and now he knows what it feels like to top 220 mph, too.

Busch had a solid showing in testing at the Brickyard's historic 2.5-mile oval on Tuesday. The 2004 Sprint Cup champion is attempting to become the fourth driver to complete in the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day. Both races are scheduled for May 25.

But there's a lot more work to go between now and then.

"Michael (Andretti) said last year the pole speed was 227 or 228 and he expects it to go up a couple of miles per hour this year, so he's saying it's going to be about 230," Busch said one day after unveiling his No. 26 Honda at the Andretti team's Indianapolis shop. "Right now, we're keeping it at a nice, gradual pace of comfort."

The plan is to ramp things up fast.

Busch said he has been training hard since early February.

The regiment calls for him to run 1 1/2 miles, and then do an hour of cardio work before running another 1 1/2 miles home. In addition, he's sprinkled in some martial arts and the 35-year-old can already see a difference in the way he feels at the end of those grueling Cup races.

Completing the 1,100-mile marathon will require more than just training.

Busch's May schedule includes at least 10 trips between Indy and Charlotte, so he can do his full-time job in the No. 41 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing. Charlotte Motor Speedway also has granted permission for Busch to land a helicopter on the frontstretch of the track to help speed up the commute between races.

And Busch cleared another hurdle Tuesday by officially passing the final two phases of Indy's rookie orientation program.

Busch and 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve were the only two drivers on the track, and it didn't take either one very long to complete their rookie orientation, which is based on the number of laps run at a fast enough speed. Track officials gave them a pass on completing the first phase because of their vast racing experience.

"It was a good day just to settle in with the team," Busch said. "It felt good to get the feedback from the car and to listen to the team."

Driving conditions were less than ideal.

Heavy overnight rain delayed the start of testing by roughly two hours and pushed back the scheduled lunch break. When the rain returned in the afternoon, speedway officials closed the track 45 minutes early.

In between, the drivers had to contend with a mixture of bright sunshine, gusty winds, cloud cover and cooling temperatures.

"Once in a while you would have to back out and give it some grip again," Villeneuve said, explaining how he tried to contend with the tricky winds in the third turn.

For the 43-year-old Villeneuve, it marked the first time he had driven an IndyCar at this track since winning the 500 in 1995 — the same year he went on to win the series championship.

It wasn't exactly old hat. His fastest lap was 217.8 mph and it took some effort to go that fast.

"The first few laps were a little surprising because I thought I was going fast," the Canadian driver said. "Then I looked down and saw 180. So I did another lap, and I looked down and saw 190."

Busch had a similar experience last year when he climbed into an IndyCar for the first time. He wasn't quite sure what all the buttons were for, and once he made it onto the track, he was thrown by the air buffeting his head. This time, he was prepared.

The only question now is whether he'll be fast enough to contend for the pole on qualifying weekend and whether he'll be able to complete — or win — both of the Memorial Day races.

"It was nice to settle in and go through the gears," said Busch, who already has one Cup win this season. "I'm confident with the car."

Busch plans to return to the track for testing May 5 when at least four other drivers are scheduled to take their rookie tests.

The 25 regular IndyCar drivers are all expected to participate in Wednesday's road-course test in preparation for the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis on May 10.

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