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May 23, 2024 8:33 pm

Appreciate Kyle Larson’s ‘Double’ effort regardless of results

kyle larson

Kyle Larson isn’t your average Indianapolis 500 rookie. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that he is the best rookie in the race’s illustrious history.

One of the most versatile race drivers on the planet, Larson’s greatest accomplishment yet could come Sunday, as after the Indianapolis 500, he will hop a flight to Charlotte, N.C., for NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600.

On May 19, Larson not only qualified fifth for the Indianapolis 500, but caught a quick flight to North Wilkesboro for the NASCAR All-Star Race, where he finished fourth. Attempting the Indy-Charlotte “Double” is a monumental task, with few success stories throughout its history.

No driver has ever won both races in one day, but many pundits feel if any driver could do it, it would be Larson.

The 2021 Cup Series champion boasts 25 career wins in the series, as well as 18 combined victories between NASCAR’s Xfinity and Truck Series. He made NASCAR’s Championship race for the second time in 2023, and he already has two wins in the Cup Series to his credit so far in 2024. Larson is also an accomplished dirt racer, winning back-to-back Chili Bowls in 2020 and 2021. He’s proven that he can win in pretty much any vehicle he sets foot in.

Larson won the Coke 600 in 2021, but running 1,100 miles in one day is no cakewalk. A grueling test of both man and machine, the 600 is NASCAR’s longest race, and off the heels of what will surely be a stressful Indianapolis 500, expectations for Larson’s run in the 600 are slightly diminished from years past.

A devilish double

The list of drivers who have attempted the Double is long, but the list of those who have achieved any definition of success is very short. Three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart is the only driver in the history of the Double to complete all 1,100 miles of racing without going a lap down in either event, when he finished sixth in the Indy 500 and third in the Coke 600 in 2001.

While some drivers in the 1960s and ‘70s ran both races in the same year, such as Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison, they did so when the Coca-Cola 600 was run on Memorial Day itself, rather than on Sunday afternoon like Indianapolis. It was only when lights were installed at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1992 that the thought of running both the Indy 500 and Coke 600 was plausible, as NASCAR could push the start of their race later in the day to avoid the heat of the afternoon sun.

In 1994, John Andretti became the first driver to run both races in the same day, while Kurt Busch is the last driver to have attempted the Double before Larson, doing so in 2014. Busch was the fastest rookie in Indy, finishing sixth in the 500, but suffered a blown motor in the Coca-Cola 600 that evening.

Stiff competition

Let’s not mince words — any driver that makes the Indianapolis 500 is one of the best drivers in the world. You don’t get to race on the same track as Foyt, Andretti and Unser once did without hundreds of executives, engineers and crew members having the utmost confidence that you can go out and be competitive.

So we must account for the talent of the field that Larson will be racing against. The 2024 Indianapolis 500 field is stacked, boasting eight former winners that make up nearly a quarter of the 33-car lineup. Defending winner Josef Newgarden will roll off the grid third.

The field will also boast some of the best drivers in the IndyCar series that have yet to kiss the bricks. Pato O’Ward, Alex Palou and polesitter Scott McLaughlin have won four of IndyCar’s first five events of the 2024 season and look to be strong contenders for the IndyCar championship. Both Colton Herta and Felix Rosenqvist sit top-five in the IndyCar points standings heading into the race, but neither driver has won an Indianapolis 500. The rest of the rookie field for Sunday’s race includes a Rolex 24 winner (Tom Blomqvist), an Indy NXT champion (Linus Lundqvist) and 19-year-old prodigy Kyffin Simpson, among others.

While Larson obviously has more experience racing against the competitors in Charlotte than Indy, the Coca-Cola 600 boosts a stellar field as well. Defending 600 winner and Cup Series champion Ryan Blaney will be a formidable threat, as will Larson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron, who is tied for the most wins in the Cup Series through the first half of the regular season.

Larson will likely have high expectations placed on his shoulders for Sunday’s races. But rather than focusing on what he could accomplish, race fans should sit back and marvel at the fact that they get to watch one of the best drivers in the world compete in two of racing’s biggest events.

–Samuel Stubbs, Field Level Media

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