NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson announced the opportunity of a career, the chance of a lifetime on Thursday – he will race the Memorial Day “Double” in 2024, making his Indianapolis 500 debut with Arrow McLaren Motorsports and then travelling to Charlotte to compete in NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 later that afternoon with his Hendrick Motorsports team.
It will be the fifth time a driver has attempted the “The Double” what is considered one of motorsports’ greatest feats, and the first time since Kurt Busch did it in 2014. Larson’s Chevrolet will be co-owned by NASCAR Hall of Famer Rick Hendrick, who fields Larson’s No. 5 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Cup Series; and its sponsorship comes from HendrickCars.com, Hendrick’s massive auto dealership empire.
“I’m super excited,’’ the 30-year old Larson said. “Competing at the Indianapolis 500 is a dream of mine and something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time – since I was a child before I ever began competing in sprint cars.
“To do it with Arrow McLaren and Mr. Hendrick especially, is a dream come true. I’m grateful for the opportunity and am really looking forward to it even though it’s still about a year-and-a-half away. … and maybe even get a win or two that day.’’
It’s certainly not out of the question for Larson, who claimed the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series championship, has 19 career victories, a pair of NASCAR All-Star race wins and is a former Rookie of the Year in stock car’s most celebrated level. In his 2021 title-winning season, the Californian won 10 races and led 2,581 laps – the most laps led in a season since 1995.
And as impressive as Larson’s stock car stats are, Larson is notably also one of the most talented midget and sprint car drivers of his time. His background in those cars is exactly the kind of lineage characterizing Indy 500 drivers for decades.
“He’s a complete driver, known for racing anything on wheels, so I’m looking forward to seeing what Kyle can do in an NTT IndyCar Series car,’’ McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown said.
“It’s been great working with Rick Hendrick and [Hendrick Motorsports Vice Chairman] Jeff Gordon to pull this together, so a big thank you to them for what’s to come in May, 2024.’’
Hendrick, who will also be fielding a car in this June’s 24 Hours of Le Mans in France, said he considers the same chance in the Indianapolis 500 to be an absolute “bucket list” item “for any racer.’’ Larson said he’s been dreaming of the chance since he was a young boy.
He smiled when asked how much he had to convince either Hendrick or Brown to go through with the plan.
“For me, I guess, I don’t think there was much convincing that had to go into it for Rick as I thought there might be,’’ said Larson, who said he began talking to Hendrick about it back in 2021 after his championship season and implored team executive Jeff Gordon “to keep a bug in Rick’s ear too.’’
“They’ve been working for a while now to find me the best opportunity to go out there and compete for a win. I think it took a lot of patience to get to this moment and I think it’s going to take a lot more patience to get to 2024 but I do think we’ve assembled the best possible scenario for all of us involved to go out and have a good run.’’
With a year to prepare for this race, Larson expects to show up in Indianapolis in May, 2024 feeling fully prepared “and feel like I’m going to go there with a shot to do good. I’m excited we were able to put it together way in advance.’’
Brown said part of that preparation will obviously include a lot of simulator work, some test days and that Larson may well be attending IndyCar races when the schedule permits – and taking part in virtual “debriefs” from Arrow McLaren’s IndyCar drivers whenever possible as well.
“We will work around what will be a very busy schedule for him with his racing activities,’’ Brown said, adding, “One of the reasons for an early announcement, an early commitment was for maximum preparation.’’
Already the news has been greeted positively around the racing world. Romain Grosjean, a former Formula One competitor who now races for Andretti Autosport in the NTT IndyCar Series, immediately responded to the news on social media.
“Love that.’’ Grosjean said above the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s post welcoming Larson to the Indy 500.
“Kyle’s ability and desire to compete across so many disciplines of motor racing is as rare today as it is refreshing,’’ Arrow McLaren Racing Director Gavin Ward said.
“He’s one of the best dirt track racers on the planet. He’s a NASCAR Cup champion. He’s won a Rolex 24 at Daytona. He’s an incredibly talented driver and has shown his ability to win no matter what he’s racing. I can’t think of a more exciting addition to Arrow McLaren’s 2024 Indy 500 lineup. We’re all racers on this team, and we’re going to give it everything to make sure this endeavor is as successful as possible.”
-Photo credit: Eakin Howard/Getty Images