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Kyle Larson's Path to the Indy 500: A Lot of Learning and a Near Miss

Larson will be the sixth racer to attempt the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, giving it the historic nickname, "The Double." 

By Elisabeth Ford
Meet the Drivers: Kyle Larson

Is there anything Kyle Larson won’t try? The NASCAR veteran completed his latest practice IndyCar run as he prepares for the Indianapolis 500 in May, just another career milestone he'll be able to check of his personal bucket list.

The 31-year-old 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion logged roughly 200 miles Monday, Feb. 6, nearly kissing the wall in his No. 17 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet.

“Just got caught off guard a little bit,” Larson told the Associated Press. “I went into Indy car turmoil, got a little bit loose into the corner, got to the apex. As I was leaving the bottom, it just started to get sideways. Was able to catch it.”

His rookie evaluation in Phoenix was Larson’s second time getting behind the wheel of an IndyCar. His first run was during his Rookie Orientation Program (ROP) back in October, where he successfully passed the test on the 2.5-mile oval at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

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Phoenix Raceway’s 1-mile tri-oval was certainly more of a challenge for Larson to familiarize himself with the unfamiliar hardware IndyCar.

“It was a smaller track, so things are happening quicker, and you’re having to lift off the throttle a little bit. At Indy when we were wide-open, it’s pretty easy by yourself, but yesterday was fun to have to work on the timing of the corner and work through some of the balance things,” Larson told The Indianapolis Star. “The balance definitely wasn’t perfect, which was good to feel at 180 or 190 mph in the corner, compared to going 220 mph at Indy and having a moment and being surprised by something.

Kyle Larson exits his car

The NASCAR star will have another go with the IndyCar at his Indy 500 Open test at the Brickyard in April before the initial practice for the Indianapolis 500, according to NASCAR.

The 108th Indianapolis 500 will take place on May 26, the same day as the Coca-Cola 600, which Larson is also set to take on. The Indy 500 will air on NBC

Will Kyle Larson Achieve The Double?

The Elk Grove, California native is gearing up to be a part of auto racing history, with plans to complete the iconic Memorial Day Double, where he will race in the Indianapolis 500 in the morning, then head to Charlotte, North Carolina to compete in the Coca-Cola 600 in the afternoon.

He would join only five other drivers in attempting the feat. John Andretti, Robby Gordon, Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch all came before him, with only Stewart successfully completing the challenge in 2001, per the AP.

The Hendricks Motorsports racer seems confident in his ability as a wheelman, so much so that he doesn’t think too much about glitz and glamour of the setting.

“I feel like I'm a grassroots type of racer. Even though I race on Sunday in the Cup Series, I still feel like I resonate with the local short track fans," he told Autoweek. "I think that's exciting. That excites fans. That's what gets people liking me. I know I've got a lot of support on the fan side of things. I'm sure the whole NASCAR garage will be paying attention to how my couple weeks is going there. That's all fun. Yeah, I look forward to it.”

Larson will head to Daytona Beach before his April Indy 500 test

While he prepares to conquer the big day in a few months, Larson knows there is still much to prepare for, besides avoiding walls at 180 mph.

“It's all the little details that you think you have to master if you really want to have a good shot at winning or running up front,” Larson said. “Those details are pulling in your pit box, pulling out of your pit box. The steering wheel is so small, the cockpit is so tight, the steering so slow, turning in I have to turn way further than normal, be quick back the other way. Just getting all that timing pulling in is difficult.

Nascar Kyle Larson Pit Road Crash

In the meantime, Larson is still focused on getting a second Cup Series championship under his belt. After placing fifth in NASCAR's Clash at the Coliseum Feb. 3, he will be back in a Cup car Sunday for the Daytona 500.

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