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Today: May 26, 2024

Top NASCAR driver Kyle Larson uses Indianapolis 500 testing to learn on the fly

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LA Post: Top NASCAR driver Kyle Larson uses Indianapolis 500 testing to learn on the fly
April 10, 2024
MICHAEL MAROT - AP

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Kyle Larson embraces the challenge of racing in any car on any track at any time.

He's now facing his trickiest quest yet — preparing for his Indianapolis 500 debut next month.

Larson returned to the historic 2.5-mile oval Wednesday for the first of two days of open testing and spent his time on the track trying to learn as much as possible. The 2021 NASCAR Cup champion is going to attempt to complete the Memorial Day weekend double — 1,100 miles of racing in Indianapolis and Charlotte, North Carolina, on the same day.

“I went out there, I was starting to get like tighter and tighter (steering) and then (Josef) Newgarden passed me and I got like super tight,” Larson said, referring to last year's first-time Indy winner. “So I don't know if that amount of tight was real but I would assume it's probably more real than not having another car out there.”

It didn't take Larson long to show what he's already deciphered. He posted the second-fastest lap in morning practice, 226.384 mph, albeit with a tow. Only Newgarden, at 228.811, was quicker.

But Larson may be better suited to successfully completing the Indy-NASCAR double than today's more specialized drivers.

His busy schedule and willingness to compete in so many formats rekindle images of the days race fans watched A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti competing on nearly any circuit.

Still, getting acclimated to the nuances of the faster, lighter IndyCars is a challenge.

In Larson's previous trip to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a sunny October day, he needed roughly 2 1/2 hours to pass the race's three-phase rookie test before spending the rest of the afternoon running flat out in little or no traffic. He also detected some spots where overconfidence — or wind gusts — could take drivers for a wild ride into the concrete walls.

Larson, who finished second in a NASCAR race at Martinsville, Virginia this past weekend, said it would have been more “overwhelming” had he been dealing with rookie orientation during Wednesday's test.

He returned to the Arrow McLaren No. 17 Chevrolet in February on Phoenix's 1-mile oval and acknowledged he nearly spun out the car that his NASCAR team, Hendrick Motorsports, also is backing. Larson called it a good sign to be running on the car's edge.

With the May 26 double nearing, the higher stakes come with more complicated lessons.

“I think I've definitely learned stuff but when the packs are that small, you don't know if what you're learning is reality,” Larson said. “I'm also kind of learning to get in front of people and getting familiar with my mirrors, communication and tying that all together, seeing runs develop behind me and knowing when to lift, when to tuck into line all of that kind of stuff.”

Wednesday's weather conditions didn't help.

The cool, breezy overcast day also led to intermittent track closures for rain showers. Larson was so busy checking off boxes during the first two hours of testing, he couldn't consult with his 500 teammates — Pato O'Ward of Mexico, American Alexander Rossi — British driver Callum Ilott, who replaced the injured David Malukas for the testing or driver coach Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy winner.

Malukas is recovering from offseason wrist surgery following a mountain biking accident. Ilott replaced him for the races in St. Petersburg and at the Thermal Club.

Larson also is figuring out the logistics for balancing next month’s practices, qualifying runs and race weekend festivities in Indy with his full-time Cup duties for two weekends in Charlotte, North Carolina.

IndyCar veterans believe Larson, who is the current points leader among NASCAR drivers, has plenty of time to fine-tune his strategy.

“If we get one or two more hours running, we'll be fine,” O'Ward said during the team's lunch break. “I mean there's plenty of time to do running during the month and the weather's going to be different. There's plenty of time to get spun up.”

The versatile Larson is trying to become the fifth driver to attempt the double.

“He (Larson) is a true racer, the guy wants to drive anything,” said O'Ward, a four-time IndyCar winner who is second in IndyCar points. “I have a massive respect for that.”

___

AP IndyCar: https://apnews.com/hub/indycar

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