Kyle Larson is hoping to become the first driver to race in both the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day since Kurt Busch did so in 2014.
The Double has been attempted just 10 times, by five different drivers.
There’ll still be more testing to come, not to mention several days of practice and qualifying for the 500 in May.
When Kyle Larson took to practice on the mile-long oval at Phoenix Raceway in an IndyCar on Monday, you might say he was seeing double.
As in taking the first real steps toward achieving one of auto racing’s most unique and rare feats, namely, The Double: competing in IndyCar’s Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600, both on the same day on Memorial Day weekend.
The 31-year-old Elk Grove, Calif. native is hoping to become the first driver to pull off the feat since Kurt Busch did so in 2014. Busch finished an impressive sixth as a 500 rookie before finishing 40th in the 600 later that evening almost 600 miles away in Charlotte, N.C.
The Double has been attempted just 10 times, by five different drivers: the late John Andretti, who attempted The Double for the first time in 1994, Davy Jones (1995), Robby Gordon (five times in 1997, 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2004), Tony Stewart (twice in 1999 and 2001) and the elder Busch brother (2014).
Not including his IndyCar rookie orientation last October at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Larson really put in a hard day’s worth on Monday, going through five different sets of tires and logging roughly 200 miles.
The several-hour test was fairly uneventful, except for when Larson tried to push his Chevrolet-powered Arrow McLaren SP Dallara to the limit, almost losing it at one point.
“I almost spun out, so I'd like to think I did (get close to the limit),” Larson said with a laugh Tuesday during a media teleconference call. “Overall, I was pleased to get the test in. Great, great conditions with weather yesterday. I thought it went smooth. It was good to run through some things, get comfortable out there making laps, but get to do some pit stop sort of stuff. Got loose at one point and almost spun out, so that was good to kind of feel the limit there at slower speeds.”
Larson, who piloted the only car on-track, estimated he reached about 190 mph. While that is fast for Phoenix Raceway, that’s about 45 mph slower than some of the fastest speeds he’ll log during the 500 on race day, or on qualifying day at IMS.
When asked to compare Monday’s jaunt vs. what will happen in the 500, Larson didn’t mince words.
“Honestly, yesterday was probably more uncomfortable just because it's a smaller track,” Larson said. “Things are happening quicker. You're having to lift off the throttle a little bit. At Indy (during rookie orientation), once we got through the different stages and stuff, we were wide open pretty easy by yourself. It was a cool day and all that.
“Yesterday was fun to kind of have to work on the timing of the corner and work through some balance things because, yeah, I mean, the balance was definitely not perfect, which was good to feel.
“At Indy, like I said, I'm out there by myself. They have downforce packed into it. I'm comfortable. Didn't really feel much about the car changing there, so... it was good to feel the car not be quite perfect at times yesterday.”
Of course, one test does not mean Larson is ready to tackle IMS from the get-go. There’ll still be more testing to come, not to mention several days of practice and qualifying for the 500 in May.
“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.
“The more reps you get, the better at it you are. Yesterday we did some kind of live pit stops at the end of the day. That was good because pit stops are a lot quicker than what I'm used to. In a stock car, all you're really worried about is popping it into neutral, coasting in, holding the brake pedal, they drop the car, put it in first gear and you take off.”
That Larson is only the sixth driver to ever try to accomplish The Double is a fact not lost upon himself.
“Yeah, I mean, I think everybody is really excited about it,” he said. “It's a rare thing. I think that brings a lot of eyes and stuff to what's going on.
“I'm with a great brand with Arrow McLaren. Also on the NASCAR side, things with Hendrick Motorsports. It doesn't get much bigger and better than the two teams I'm with. Yeah, I think that also helps things.
“I'm just excited honestly to get going, get there. I don't really worry too much about the business side of it. I do know there's a lot of race fans that are excited to see me out there. That makes me excited, as well.
“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. 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 is confident in his ability to win at Indy and Charlotte (which he already has won once in 2021). In fact, he’s equally confident in winning The Triple in 2024: not only the 500 and 600, but kicking things off by winning the Daytona 500, a little less than two weeks from now.
“Hendrick Motorsports is always really fast there,” Larson said of Daytona. “I know our race car is going to be good. It obviously takes some luck to get to the finish, all that. But you also have to make good decisions and be prepared, all that.
“I feel like our team has done a really good job. Although on paper we're literally like the worst team on superspeedways, I do believe that we are much, much better than what we show on paper. I feel like 90% of the time we're in the top six to eight at the end of the race, the final 10 laps, then we get caught up in a crash, end up finishing 28th or worse.
“Eventually it's got to work out. We keep putting ourselves in position. I'm confident that we can go out there and win or at least get a good finish and get off to a good start for the year. There's a lot of factors that come into play at those superspeedway races. You have to cross your fingers that you can be in front of the pack and then you execute at the finish.
“It's always good when you can, as a driver, put yourself in new situations where you're challenging your brain, you're challenging yourself to evolve and learn something new, figure out the differences or similarities between race cars.
“Yeah, I mean, I think there's still a ton for me to learn and a ton left out on the table for me to get comfortable. The more reps I get with everything, not just making laps around track, but in and out of the box like I mentioned, exiting pit road hard, stuff like that is going to be important.”
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