*Turn 2 Blog is a regular feature on InsideCircleTrack.com. Here, site operators Michael Moats and Richard Allen take turns offering their thoughts on the NASCAR and pavement short track racing topics of the day.
Now that he has officially passed his Indianapolis 500 rookie test, can Kyle Larson be competitive in both the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600?
Richard: When Memorial Day weekend comes in 2024, Kyle Larson will attempt to become the fifth driver to attempt running the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day.
John Andretti was the first to compete in both races on the same day back in 1994 driving to a 10th place result in Indy but then suffering a DNF at Charlotte. Robby Gordon tried the feat five times with best Indy finishes of 6th in 2000 and 8th in 2002 but the best result he could muster at Charlotte Motor Speedway was a 16th in 2002. Tony Stewart, who did it twice, had the best overall performance of those to complete the Double finishing 6th at Indy in 2001 then coming home 3rd later that evening in Charlotte. Kurt Busch was 6th at Indianapolis in 2014 but engine issues derailed his Charlotte run just past the halfway mark.
I don’t think there is a person on the planet who doubts Larson’s ability to drive any type of race car. He has shown over and over again that he can adapt quickly to new challenges. He is a former NASCAR champion who wins routinely in Sprint Cars. He won quickly in a Dirt Late Model and he won his first ever start in a Dirt Modified.
But still, this is a very different situation. I have never driven a race car but it would seem to me that an IndyCar would be among the toughest for a newcomer to get a feel for. Jimmie Johnson had his struggles during his time running in that form of racing on a regular basis.
Of course, Larson’s goal next May is going to be winning both events, and he has previously been victorious in the Coke 600. After all we have seen him do, I am not going to categorically say he can’t accomplish that. However, I think matching Stewart’s 2001 performance might be a more realistic expectation, especially with so little IndyCar experience.
One thing I will predict with certainty is that his will be the most hyped of all the Indy-Charlotte Double attempts.
Michael: I would never say Larson can’t do anything in a race car. He routinely goes against drivers that race a particular type of car and beats them. I don’t know if the average fan knows how difficult that is.
Running an IndyCar would be the biggest test for Larson. I don’t doubt he will have the speed to make the race and even be fairly competitive. There will be a learning curve to see how these cars react at those speeds with other cars around him.
The drivers in the IndyCar series are very talented at what they do. Defending champion Alex Palou, Scott Dixon, and Josef Newgarden will be some of the drivers that Larson will have to beat if he wants to win the Indy 500. I’m not sure he could do that, but like I said, I wouldn’t bet against him either.
Is there an advantage in winning the first race in the ‘Round of 8’?
Richard: There are certainly no guarantees but history indicates that winning the first race in the ‘Round of 8’ can be very beneficial. Joey Logano won at this point in the season at Martinsville in 2018 then at Las Vegas last year while Kyle Larson took the checkered flag ahead of the pack at Texas in 2021. So, three of the last five NASCAR Cup Series champions have won the first race in this current round.
It certainly appears as if Larson and his Hendrick Motorsports team did themselves a huge favor with Sunday’s win at Las Vegas. That is not to say they will just ignore the upcoming events at Homestead and Martinsville but they will have an opportunity to focus a bit more of their efforts on their Phoenix car knowing they are locked into the ‘Championship 4’.
All that said, another thing history has shown is that being the first off pit road during the final pit stop at Phoenix plays a major role in determining the title as Larson’s team proved in 2021. And again, the No. 5 crew has experience in that realm as they showed in Las Vegas by getting their driver out first late in the going.
Michael: There certainly seems to be an advantage. The last two champions won the first race in the round of 8. As was mentioned on the telecast, the teams can start preparing for Phoenix now, something the other seven can’t do just yet.
Another thing to consider is Larson could really put several teams in a nervous position after Homestead. If he were to win at Homestead, that’s one less automatic spot up for grabs. I say this because Larson is usually really good at Homestead.
Should Christopher Bell have been more aggressive coming to the checkered flag?
Richard: Christopher Bell doesn’t seem to be the type of driver who would want to win a race by spinning the leader out coming to the line. That said, hard racing is different than just blatantly wrecking someone. And, Larson did throw a block between the exit of turn four and the finish line.
I’m not sure there would have been the same negative reaction for Bell as Denny Hamlin has gotten following his late race run-ins with Larson this year. NASCAR and NBC would have probably enjoyed having two cars spinning across the finish line for the win.
I’m not sure what I would have done in that same situation but I think Bell made the right decision. Ultimately, we will know for sure two weeks from now.
Michael: I don’t think there was much else Bell could do in that spot other than to dump Larson coming off turn 4. Bell and Larson have raced against each other for a long time, first on dirt and now in NASCAR. Both drivers have a great respect for each other. And that’s how they race each other – with great respect.
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