Kyle Larson, Rick Hendrick to Achieve Bucket List Item With Hendrick 1100
Kyle Larson has always wanted to run the Memorial Day Double, but the timing had never lined up. Likewise, Rick Hendrick has always wanted to be involved in the Indianapolis 500. Now, they're doing it together in 2024.
SPEEDWAY, Ind. – Kyle Larson was already a big hit in Indianapolis even before the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion was formally introduced Sunday morning as the next pursuer of the great Memorial Day weekend racing double – the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600.
The No. 17 IndyCar prepared by Arrow McLaren Racing was officially unveiled in the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage area in the hours before Sunday’s Brickyard 400 NASCAR Cup Series race - Larson’s No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was staged adjacently and both crews along with the effort’s primary backers lined up for photo ops for the national and international press.
“Really cool announcement,’’ said Larson, who had returned to Indianapolis only hours earlier after claiming his second win Saturday night in the famed Knoxville Nationals sprint car event in Iowa.
“It’s been on my mind to do a long time but I just never felt like the timing was right,’’ Larson said of his Indy-Charlotte double, now dubbed “The Hendrick 1100,”
Larson attended a couple of practice days and spent time at this year’s Indianapolis 500 – sitting atop the McLaren team’s pit box - before flying back to Charlotte to compete in the Coca-Cola 600, a race Larson won in 2021.
“I wanted to be able to fully commit to it and take the time to prep for it and I feel like now, after having a lot of success in the NASCAR stuff, being with a team consistently up front and making the Playoffs, I feel like now I can take a little bit of focus away to try and compete in the world’s biggest race,’’ Larson said of his Indy 500 timing, adding, “There’s going to be so much for me to learn and it was very eye-opening,’’
Larson’s IndyCar seat has been poured – and he noted – is pretty identical to his designated mentor at McLaren, 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan. Larson will make his first laps in the car in October – completing a standard Rookie Test at the 2.5-mile Indy track.
“As a driver, I’m thinking he can drive anything,’’ Kanaan said of how he may be able to help Larson get up to speed. “I think it’s the [IndyCar] racing skill [Kanaan can help] because it’s so different. You’re talking about a car that is aerodynamic-dependent, how you’re going to time the passes. He can lose a race not because he’s not fast but because he didn’t time a pass. If you look at like the last Indy 500s, the win came on the last lap.
“So my biggest task is to try to help him understand and explain to him that you are setting up a pass in Turn 3 but you’re actually starting to think about it in Turn 1 or the front straightaway and I think they are not used to that because their [NASCAR] cars are not aerodynamic.”
This will also mark the Indianapolis 500 debut for the NASCAR Hall of Fame owner Hendrick, who earlier this summer also fielded a sports car in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He smiled and acknowledged it didn’t take “much” convincing for his latest cross-over endeavor with Larson.
“It’s something that’s on the bucket list and to be able to come and participate in the Indy 500, that’s a dream,’’ Hendrick said. “Kyle’s got an awesome amount of talent and got Arrow McLaren, a great team, to help us. So, we’re excited.’’
“It’s an exciting time for NASCAR, IndyCar and I’m really thrilled about it.’’
Kurt Busch is the fifth all-time and most recent driver to attempt the Memorial Day “Double,” finishing sixth place in the Indy 500 to earn Rookie of the Race honors only to suffer a DNF for engine failure later at Charlotte. The late John Andretti was the first. Robby Gordon holds the record for most tries (five). NASCAR Hall of Famer Tony Stewart did it twice – earning the best overall finish in 1999; ninth at Indy and fourth at Charlotte.
Kanaan smiled widely when asked to gauge his expectations of Larson and the realistic potential for a win next May.
“He’s talented,’’ Kanaan said. “He’s Kyle Larson.’’
Photo Credit: Tyson Gifford, Racing America