Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images via NASCAR

Larson Doubles Up with Top-Five Runs at Indianapolis and North Wilkesboro

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

Kyle Larson is becoming a well-traveled man as he splits his time between Indianapolis and North Carolina between his full-time duties in the NASCAR Cup Series and his first attempt at the Indianapolis 500.

On Sunday, that meant starting the day rocketing around Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the second day of Indy 500 qualifying, where he had advanced into the Fast 12 after Saturday’s first day of time trials.

Larson posted the fifth-fastest time in the Fast 12 at 232.788 mph to move on to the Fast Six later in the day with a chance at running for the pole.

Rolling off second in the Fast Six, he improved his time to an average of 232.846 mph to jump to the top of the board temporarily before being eclipsed by his Arrow McLaren teammate Alexander Rossi and the Team Penske trio of Scott McLaughlin, Will Power and Josef Newgarden to bump him back to the middle of the second row for next Sunday’s 108th running of the Indianapolis 500.

“Oh, it’s awesome! It just makes it all mean something more,” Larson said of his top-five qualifying run. “To be lined up on the second row of the Indianapolis 500 is pretty crazy. Yeah, I just can’t believe it, really. I thought if we could make the Fast 12, that would be exceeding expectations. To qualify as well as we did yesterday and then get into the Fast Six today was unbelievable.

“Happy with how it’s gone so far there, and now I look forward to hopefully get better in race trim.”

After handshakes and high-fives with his Arrow McLaren crew, Larson had little time to waste before having to get to a waiting helicopter on the Brickyard Cross Golf Course outside Turn 2 to head off to North Wilkesboro to defend his 2023 NASCAR All-Star Race win.

NASCAR pushed the start of the non-points exhibition back by 15 minutes, but Larson arrived with plenty of time to spare after making the journey from Indianapolis to the Wilkes County Airport where another helicopter was waiting to ferry him to the track.

Despite not having turned a lap in his No. 5 Chevrolet on the newly repaved track at North Wilkesboro and having to start from the rear of the field, Larson quickly adjusted to being back in a stock car, beginning his march forward shortly after the green flag flew.

By halfway, Larson had climbed to 13th and was far from being done climbing into the top-10 after the Lap 117 caution and advancing as far as sixth-place by the time the All-Star caution flew at Lap 150.

Electing to make a trip to pit road for fresh tires and fuel under that caution, Larson fell back to 10th, but was one of a select few that would have new Goodyear Eagles for the upcoming restart.

Larson put his new tire to use on the restart, slicing through the field up to third-place in only a handful of laps, zeroing in on making a run at the leaders as the laps clicked away.

However, the tire advantage that Larson used to get to the top-three would eventually go away, leaving him to hang on over the final run to the finish, dropping to fourth behind Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, and Chris Buescher by the time the checkered flag flew.

“I thought we were in great position there,” Larson said. “Got to fourth pretty quickly; got to third pretty quickly. I thought I could just be patient. I built really loose for a little while, and then they started kind of inching away from me. I moved up and I was kind of hanging on from there. I was surprised that the guys that didn’t pit were as strong as they were. I thought we were going to be in the best position there to win.

“Hats off to the No. 5 Chevy team. I know they had a lot of work this week; having Kevin (Harvick) practice, swap seats and everything back to where I could drive it. Proud to go back and forth and have a shot to win.”

With a pair of top-fives in the bank on his first weekend of double-duty, Larson’s work is far from over as he will have to head back to Indianapolis tonight to get ready for two hours of Indy 500 practice on Monday at 1:00 pm ET, followed by Carb Day final practice next Friday.

From there it’s on to race day next Sunday, where he hopes to be able to complete all 1,100 miles of the Indy 500/Coke 600 double.

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.