Larson Feeling “The Double Pressure”

Kyle Larson - 2024-05-17T170557.688

Kyle Larson sat center stage – his fellow Indianapolis 500 second row starters on either side for the last formal news conference before Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.

One after another – after another and another – the questions all came for Larson, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion who will roll off fifth in his Indianapolis 500 debut Sunday afternoon before flying immediately to Charlotte Motor Speedway to compete in the NASCAR Cup Series’ longest race of the season, the Coca-Cola 600, that night.

At one point during the media opportunity, Larson grinned, held his hand up and sincerely solicited the crowd of reporters to please ask the other two drivers, A.J. Foyt Racing’s Santino Ferrucci and Larson’s Arrow-McLaren teammate Alexander Rossi some questions too. But even his competitors immediately conceded with smiles, Larson is the story of the event.

“Man, it’s impressive, there’s very few drivers that drive everything today,” Ferrucci said of Larson. “He’s one of them and if anyone can do it [be competitive in both races], I think he can. I’ve driven some of the stock car stuff, it’s very different. It’s a lot of fun, but you don’t see IndyCar drivers doing the double.

“Just the physical side of it [is challenging], but Kyle is a super-fit dude,” Ferrucci added, patting Larson on the back. “The cars are so heavy to drive. The stock cars are really hot inside. You get a 90-degree day here and you’re in the car for four-and-a-half, five hours, I get out and I’m completely depleted. So how you recover on a flight [after the Indy 500] with IVs and everything and then get in another hotbox that’s like 130 [degrees] inside there [in Charlotte] all over again. Amen to you, it’s cool as hell.

“I’m rooting for him because like, ‘why not?’ Make some history.”

Larson making history by winning either or both races isn’t just a fun racing thing to get behind or a good will sound-bite from his competitors. Larson has been impressive at Indianapolis from the time he first turned the wheels of the No. 17 Arrow-McLaren Chevrolet.

He was among the top-three fastest in most of the month’s practice sessions and was a contender for the renowned Indy 500 pole position last weekend – ultimately turning in a lap of 232.846 mph. He was 13th quickest in Friday’s final two-hour practice before the 500. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon was fastest followed by four-time Indy winner Helio Castroneves and Larson’s Arrow-McLaren teammate Pato O’Ward.

“I felt comfortable, feel like we checked a lot of boxes off before the race,” Larson said of his final laps in the car before Sunday’s green flag.

Weather permitting – and there is a rainy forecast for Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – Larson will join the late John Andretti, Tony Stewart, Robby Gordon and most recently Kurt Busch, as the only drivers to compete in both the Indianapolis 500 and Charlotte’s Coca-Cola 600 in the same day. Stewart’s 2001 effort – sixth at Indy and third at Charlotte – is the best “Double” to date and he is the only driver to complete every lap of both races doing it in both 1999 and 2001.

As with that multi-talented foursome who raced in multiple disciplines, Larson has spent much of his career driving a wide assortment of race cars. And winning.

The 31-year old Californian has proven to be one of the most versatile drivers of his generation. So not only has he been understandably confident in his chances this weekend, so many others watching his work are confident in Larson too.

Parnelli Jones, a fellow Californian, the 1963 Indianapolis 500 race winner and a legend of the sport has been mightily impressed with Larson’s brief time in IndyCars.

“I’m proud of Kyle,” Jones told IndyCar.com. “He looked like he was having fun and that helps when you’re on the track if it’s fun and not stressful.

“We knew he could drive any car and succeed and his performance so far in qualifying backs that up. Kyle’s a smart driver and has strong skills and awareness, whether in a sprint car on the dirt or on the pavement in an IndyCar.

“I wish him the very best on race day,” Jones added. “I can’t wait to see how Kyle does. So far he’s nailed it; he’s right there. He’s a good guy. … and good luck in Charlotte too. The double.”

The opportunity to complete the “Double” remained a bit in jeopardy as of Friday with a 50 percent chance of rain forecast for Indianapolis at the time of the race’s 12:45 p.m. ET scheduled start. Larson has until 4:15 p.m. before he must board a helicopter at The Speedway to take him to a plane to deliver him to Charlotte in time for NASCAR’s annual Memorial Day 600-miler. Should Larson have to get out of the car, Nolan Siegel may be tapped to drive the No. 17. Siegel, a highly-touted 19-year old, was bumped from the field in final qualifying.

“This is going to be a tremendous amount of pressure, but we signed up for it,” said Larson’s NASCAR team owner and Hall of Famer Rick Hendrick, who said he and Hendrick executive Jeff Gordon will ultimately make a weather decision.

“We’re in the race. We qualified. Kyle is a heck of a talent. I just hope that the weather cooperates and we get to finish the race.”

Most of the starting field has steered away from weather discussions in the days leading up to the race. Instead, it’s business as usual – final practice, sponsor appearances, and even a parade through downtown Indianapolis on Saturday.

And like so many in Sunday’s race field, Rossi – who won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie in 2016 – has high expectations for his teammate.

“I’m excited for him,” said Rossi, who will start fourth just alongside Larson. “I’m excited for every rookie that gets to experience it this year because it is one of those things that will change your appreciation for this race and kind of, motorsports in general.”

The 2004 NASCAR Cup Series champion – and 2014 Indy 500 Rookie of the Race Busch ultimately had some succinct advice for Larson.

“You’re done learning, go after it,” Busch said.

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.