Analysis: Kyle Larson settling in quickly as preparation continues for Indianapolis 500 debut | Newser (2024)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kyle Larson said all the right things after completing 43 laps around Indianapolis Motor Speedway as part of his preparation for his debut next month in “The Greatest Spectacle of Racing.”

He was glad he completed the rookie orientation last October and didn't have to deal with that last week during the open test for the Indianapolis 500. Instead, the NASCAR star got to run with the big boys and ended the rain-shortened day behind only defending Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden on the speed chart.

“I think had I had to do the (orientation) I would have been stressed out and really nervous and just not able to focus,” he said as he explained that every opportunity with Arrow McLaren has been about working through a checklist as he learns how to drive an Indy car.

At orientation, it was about the “”little stuff, what the steering wheel felt like, visually, what all that felt like.” At a test in Phoenix, he wanted “to feel the car and it slipping and moving and work on ins and outs of pit stalls and things like that.”

When it came time to get on the 2.5-mile track at Indianapolis, it was another day of box checking for NASCAR's 2021 Cup Series champion.

“I could move on to the next thing, like all right, ‘Now how does it look like around cars? How does what I’ve learned in the past translate to now being behind cars?’” he said. “I’m fortunate that I was able to do (orientation) last year and then be allowed to run that little bit at Phoenix. I think it’s definitely going to help.”

Larson next month will become the fifth driver in history to attempt to complete “The Double” and run 1,100 miles in one day, starting with the Indianapolis 500 in an Indy car and then flying to Charlotte to drive in the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR's longest race of the year.

Tony Stewart is the only driver to complete both races, which he did in 2001 in his second attempt. Stewart came from an open-wheel background and won the IndyCar championship in its inaugural 1997 season.

Larson has a similar dirt track, grassroots racing background as Hall of Famer Stewart, but he's never before entered an IndyCar race and has roughly 300 laps in the car under his belt.

Larson's next time on the track at Indy won't be until May 14 when IMS opens for Indy 500 preparations. Larson is running an entry co-fielded by McLaren and Hendrick Motorsports, his NASCAR team and Rick Hendrick's first entry into the Indianapolis 500.

The Hendrick preparation and attention to detail has Larson almost nonchalant about his upcoming effort. Hendrick had his people on the ground at last year's Indy 500 to understand the scheduling and driver requirements, begin working on logistics and get a feel for the flow of the two-week event.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Jimmie Johnson ran the Indy 500 in 2022 but was retired from stock car racing at the time so “The Double” wasn't on his radar. He said the back and forth from Indianapolis to North Carolina — where Larson will have to run the All-Star race at North Wilkesboro Speedway on Indy 500 qualifying weekend — will be the most difficult part of the task.

“The stress and time commitment. I was really surprised how much time is required to get through the month of May, which is just a couple of weeks of May at the track in Indy itself,” Johnson said. “I think travel and being able to spend the time that he would want in Indy, that is going to be compromised a bit.”

Johnson also noted that weather in Indianapolis will be a factor.

“If it’s dry and he can get all of the laps that he intends to get, I think that will help him tremendously. If it is wet, and he’s got some conflicts and can’t get on track because of some NASCAR schedule, that track time starts to shrink,” Johnson added. "And that’s really what it is about — getting reps in the very unique situations that you see in the race. Practice — I personally didn’t see the aero situations, and the traffic situations that came up during the race — and that is where I wasn’t as prepared as I would have liked.”

Larson's travel plans still are in flux for May.

The first conflict could come on “Fast Friday” when IndyCar practices until 6 p.m. on May 19. North Wilkesboro’s schedule has action starting that day at 4 p.m. and that includes qualifying for the heat races the next day.

NASCAR has yet to announce what penalties, if any, Larson would face if he misses any activity during All-Star race weekend. The All-Star race at North Wilkesboro is May 21, hours after the top 12 cars on the starting grid is set in Indianapolis.

He doesn't know if he can hang around Indy and try to win the pole, and even making it back to North Carolina for Saturday night's heat races is going to be tight. But he's the defending race winner at North Wilkesboro and wants the $1 million payout again, so the logistics of qualifying for Indy and making it to the All-Star race appear to be his only concerns.

“The All-Star race pays $1 million to win, so I think that would be hard for anyone to turn down the opportunity to race for,” Larson said. "But if our (Indy 500) car is really fast, at the same time, it’s hard to turn down the opportunity to run for (the Indy 500) pole. ... We’ll have to figure that out when the schedule comes out.”



Analysis: Kyle Larson settling in quickly as preparation continues for Indianapolis 500 debut | Newser (2024)


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