Rick Hendrick: 'Talent, Desire' Are Driving Kyle Larson's Indy 500 Effort

kyle larson indy 500
Talent, Desire' Are Driving Kyle Larson at IndyPenske Entertainment/Karl Zemlin

There is ample evidence to suggest that Kyle Larson could drive virtually any kind of race car and be successful, if not downright dominant.

Larson has added more validation to that concept so far this month in preparations and qualifying for Sunday’s Indianapolis 500. Any thoughts that the faster speeds and claustrophobic racing associated with open-wheel competition at its highest level might intimidate Larson were dashed quickly, and now most of the questions center on how well he might do.

Rick Hendrick, who owns Larson’s NASCAR Cup Series team and who is partnering with Arrow McLaren for Sunday’s run in the 500, said there’s no doubt Larson is a unique talent.


Larson stunned much of the paddock by qualifying fifth Sunday, sharing the spotlight with Team Penske, which put three drivers on the front row for IndyCar’s biggest race. Penske’s Scott McLaughlin won the pole at 234.220 miles per hour. Larson ran 232.846, the second-fastest four-lap qualifying speed by a rookie in 500 history.

The final practice for the 500 is scheduled Friday on Carb Day.

kyle larson indy 500 qualifying
Kyle Larson qualified fifth for this year’s Indianapolis 500.Penske Entertainment/Justin Walsh

Larson is attempting to become the latest driver to join a select group by completing the 500 and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 in the same day. Weather could play a role. Advance forecasts call for a 60% chance of rain Sunday in Indianapolis. If the 500 is delayed, Hendrick and his executive team will face a tough decision, dealing with the possibility of abandoning Larson’s shot at the 500 to make sure he makes the NASCAR point race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Hendrick said Tuesday that any decision along those lines would not be made until Sunday.

Is Larson exceptional, or could any of the other top four or five NASCAR drivers plug into an identical situation and do well?

“Well, I heard Denny Hamlin say on TV the other day he didn't want any part of that program,” Hendrick said. “I think it takes a unique guy that's driven a lot of different cars, race cars. I think Kyle is exceptional, and I think his confidence and ability -- you never know, do you put one of them in there. I know Kyle Busch has wanted to do it. I know none of my guys have mentioned it other than Kyle, but I think his experience in every kind of car he's been in gives him the confidence that he can do it, and he wants to do it, and it's something he's dreamed about.

“I think when you put the talent and the desire and all that together, I think that's what's driving him, and I do think he's one of the greatest drivers that I've ever been with.”

And that is quite a list.

Hendrick said the entire Hendrick Motorsports operation has been involved in Larson’s run at the double. Members of his No. 5 Cup crew are scheduled to be at IMS Friday to watch practice and absorb the Indy 500 atmosphere.

“This is a big day for everyone there,” Hendrick said. “For the team to go up and watch that and be a part of just standing there, involved in that, they deserve that. They're all excited. They've worked hard. They want to see Kyle do well. They feel like we're representing NASCAR when we go to Indy, and they want us to do good.

“It's going to be a great day for our organization to be able to be there and experience Indy. It's well-deserved.”

Hendrick said Larson has maneuvered through the wacky scheduling and planning and flight schedules and everything else that goes into the Indy-Charlotte with a high level of confidence.

“If he's nervous, he doesn't show it too much,” Hendrick said. “He just believes in his ability. Once he gets in the car and gets comfortable, he wants to race. When I was watching practice … he got a run going into one, and it looked like he was going to the outside, and I thought, oh, man, don't try that. But that's the racer in him.

“He's calm, cool, focused. He doesn't let the outside noise get to him. Even though he said he'd never signed as many autographs as he did up at Indy, you could see the crowd the way they reacted when he was on the track and out of the car.”