HomeSportsKyle Larson on Indy 500 experience: 'Race day just sucked...I didn't really...

Kyle Larson on Indy 500 experience: ‘Race day just sucked…I didn’t really enjoy it’

INDIANAPOLIS – Fulfilling a dream of racing in the Indianapolis 500 proved to be a bit of a nightmare for 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson.

The weather ruined part of Larson’s chance to complete the “Hendrick 1100” as the first driver to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day since Kurt Busch in 2014.

But the weather forecast didn’t cooperate. When a lightning storm and heavy rain hit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway after 11 a.m. ET, the start of the scheduled 12:45 p.m. race was delayed by four hours.

So much went into Larson’s first attempt to compete in the Indianapolis 500 that it became the top priority of the day. NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick and vice chairman Jeff Gordon agreed because they had invested so much time, effort and resources in Larson’s Indy efforts.

When Larson decided he would start the rain-delayed Indy 500, it meant he would not start the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Instead of starting the No. 5 Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet for the 400-lap NASCAR marathon, it was Justin Allgaier who would drive Larson’s stock car.

Instead of being overwhelmed by the joy of racing in his first Indianapolis 500, Larson told NBCSports.com Monday night at the Indianapolis 500 Victory Celebration that he was overwhelmed with guilt.

He felt like he was letting down his entire Hendrick Motorsports NASCAR team, as well as his powerful legion of fans.

“It was going perfectly until race day,” Larson told NBCSports.com. “That’s what brings me down.

“Race day just sucked. To be honest, yesterday sucked. I didn’t really enjoy it.

“Hopefully we can do it again one day and really enjoy both races.”

There’s a reason why so few drivers have attempted to compete in two of the world’s biggest races on the same day. The Indianapolis 500 is known around the world and has more than a century of history and tradition.

The Coca-Cola 600 is NASCAR’s longest race, one of its largest events, and is held at the center of the NASCAR universe in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“It’s hard and I think it would be easier to deal with it if it was just a normal race day, like normal events,” Larson said. “But when you have two important events and one event that affects your season, it’s hard to get over that. But I’m grateful for the opportunity. I’m grateful I even got the chance to do it.

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“I wish the weather had cooperated.

“I just prayed for an hour more rain and it all would have turned out fine, but it just didn’t end that way.”

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Larson believes another hour of rain in Indianapolis would have rained out the Indy 500 and moved it to Monday. He would then have left to run the full distance in the Coca-Cola 600 and return to Indianapolis to run the 500 Mile Race on Memorial Day.

But with 347,000 fans at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, every effort must be made to ensure the Indy 500 takes place on the scheduled date. Otherwise, many fans would have to leave heartbroken about missing their biggest day of the year (and a day they spent so much money to be a part of).

In making the decision to complete the Indy 500, even with a four-hour delay before the start of the race, Larson couldn’t escape the overwhelming sense of guilt.

“I don’t know if I ever really got into the right mindset,” Larson admitted to NBCSports.com. “I feel like I had a lot of weight on me and a lot of guilt because I couldn’t be in two places at once.

“I was just never in the right mindset. I didn’t like anything yesterday.”

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Not even the pre-race ceremonies, the drama, Rick Hendrick, Jeff Gordon, all the major team executives who were there and all the photos with the VIPs near his car taken on the grid just before the race, would have made that dreaded feeling that was in Larson’s soul.

“I just felt like we were all in a lose-lose situation with the weather and everything,” Larson said. “So I’m really hopeful that everyone there had a good time.

“Even though it’s the biggest race in the world, it’s hard to fully enjoy it when you know you’re going to miss another one.

While Larson felt guilty, Gordon felt dizzy.

As he walked across the starting grid to Larson’s car for the Indy 500, he told NBCSports.com that he had “goosebumps.”

“This is so cool and so emotional, and I know it will be even more emotional once the pre-race ceremonies start,” said Gordon. “I had goosebumps during the Indianapolis 500 on race day and I know there will be more to come.”
Larson had a near flawless two weeks leading up to the 108e Indianapolis 500. He qualified fifth after making the Fast Six in qualifying and never really made a mistake in practice or time trials at Indy.

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He quickly adapted to the high speeds. He signed countless autographs and posed for countless photos. He did more media interviews and personal appearances in two weeks than during most of a NASCAR Cup Series season.

Larson was a perfect ambassador at the Indianapolis 500, representing NASCAR as well as the regular, dirt and sprint car crowd.

That was enough for him to win the 2024 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year after finishing 17e. He led four laps and was a contender for a top five finish, but was penalized for speeding on pit road during a pit stop on lap 131. That put Larson a lap down, but he was able to fight his way back to first round. and complete all 200 laps of the Indianapolis 500.

“The experience of the last few weeks is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before,” Larson said as he accepted the Indy 500 ROY award Monday evening. “The support from the fans was incredible for me. I felt like a fan favorite from the start.

“It was great to have Rick Hendrick here. I wish the whole plan had gone better.”

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Larson admitted to checking his phone every two minutes for weather updates.

“That was stressful for me,” he said. “Everyone got to run one race and I tried to run two.”

Checking the weather continued for the rest of the day.

After completing the Indianapolis 500 at 7:45 p.m., he jumped into a black SUV parked on pit road with other key Hendrick Motorsports executives. The SUV took him to a helicopter on the grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and then to a private jet at the Indianapolis airport that took him to Concord Regional Airport, a few miles from Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Another helicopter flight to CMS and Larson had arrived at the NASCAR race at 9:13 PM ET.
He was ready to reclaim his Chevrolet from Allgaier and finish what was left of the Coca-Cola 600.

But ten minutes later the race was red flagged due to rain.

“We could see that the weather was coming. And I was just hoping it would get there before the half so the race wouldn’t be official,” Larson said.

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“We got there just in time for the rain and thought they would report it pretty quickly. And when they did it and the track started to dry, I really got my hope back. My mood changed a bit to finally being happy. I was just getting ready to go. I knew we had 150 laps left in the race, and I knew I would have enough time to get to the front. I knew my race car would be fast, and when I looked at the track it was probably 80 percent dry and it didn’t seem like it would be long before it could be ready to go.

“Then they shocked us all and called it official. It ruined my good mood.”

There was still disappointment on Larson’s face when he returned to Indianapolis on Monday to collect his winnings for the 500.

He credited Tony Kanaan, Arrow McLaren sporting director and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner, for helping him adapt so quickly and smoothly to the No. 17 Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet.

“Tony Kanaan was such a great asset to me,” Larson said. “It made the experience and transition smooth. I hope to do it again someday.”

Next year?

“I hope so,” Larson said. “The way the day went yesterday, it might take some convincing to get me to do it again.

“Maybe Roger Penske can order something better again.”

Larson did not realize his dream of completing all 1,100 miles in the “Hendrick 1100.” In fact, he only completed 500 because he was never allowed to complete a lap in competition at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

But he helped his father, Mike, realize his dream of seeing his son race in the Indianapolis 500.

“Ever since this deal was announced, I knew how excited my father would be,” Larson said. “He has had a great time these past two weeks. Yesterday he met his hero, Mario Andretti, on the grid.

“He was so happy; he cried a lot. To see his child, who has worked so hard and put in so much time, effort and energy to get to this position at the top of North American motorsports, and to see his child in the Indianapolis 500.”

“It meant more to me to race for him than for myself.

“I hope and pray that I get another chance.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500

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