Photo: Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment

Larson Reflects on Indianapolis Open Test Ahead of Texas Cup Weekend

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

FORT WORTH, Texas – Kyle Larson has been all about going fast this week.

Fresh off a rain-shortened day of NTT IndyCar Series testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Wednesday for his attempt at the Indianapolis 500, Larson is back to his regularly scheduled duties of driving the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in the NASCAR Cup Series this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

Larson was no worse for wear once he arrived in the Lone Star State, setting the fast time in qualifying on Saturday to score his third straight Cup Series pole.

Prior to shifting back into NASCAR mode, Larson reflected on his time in Indianapolis in the unofficial kick-off for the run-up to the Month of May.

With the help from a tow around the 2.5-mile oval, Larson was able to put up the second fastest time of the day, but the 31-year-old is not getting ahead of himself in his quest to be the latest driver to attempt the Memorial Day Double.

“I don’t think that I could take the green flag tomorrow and feel like I’m ready after running 40ish laps the other day,” Larson said. “I still feel like there’s a ton left to learn and although I learned some the other day, like I said, I don’t know how it’s gonna represent itself to racing conditions.

“I’m not taking too much from the day, but for me, it was good to get out there and let me just see what an Indy car looked like from behind it and see what an Indy car coming in my mirror looked like. Feeling a little bit of dirty air, coming on pit lane with cars on pit lane and people on pit lane, like stuff like that was [better] than just like driving the car, I guess.

“It’s all the other little details that I just need to get the hang of before I think I’m really comfortable and I don’t know if I’ll ever feel like I’m really comfortable before you get to the race.”

Though he was able to make laps at speed at the track in his Rookie Orientation Program last Fall, Larson explained that the feeling of speed in those cars, especially after not doing in over the last handful of months, took some time to get acclimated to again, but once he shook off the rust, it was business as usual.

“The very first run I made, which was just by myself, I was like, man, this is f******* fast,” Larson said. “It’s crazy. My brain was just like a millisecond behind, I think. Man, this is wild. But once you get that time to like come to a stop and like decompress and process it, then the next time you go out it’s all fine and similar.

“So, like the next run I made in the Indy car, like it just felt normal. I mean, you’re just kind of running to the level of the grip of the car. I know I’m going faster than a stock car or a sprint car, but like when you match it with the level of grip that you have, it doesn’t feel 30 mile an hour faster or whatever. I think just the level of grip that it had that morning and the level of downforce that IndyCar makes, not that it makes it feel slow ’cause it’s not. I know it’s super-fast, but it doesn’t feel way faster than a stock car.”

In making his attempt at the 500, Larson joins an elite group of those from the stock car world that have made the jump to open wheel for a chance to race in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Most recently, Cup Series champions Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch have made starts in the race, with Johnson running in 2022 and Busch running both the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in 2014.

Larson noted that he has been able to lean on not only his teammates at Arrow McLaren, but also gleaning intel from both Johnson and Busch on the experiences they had.

“I talked to Kurt a little bit a little over a month ago maybe. And I’ve talked to Jimmie just a little bit too. I mean, they’re both great guys to talk to,” said Larson.

“But at the same point, I’m not like really picking too many people’s brains ’cause I feel like at a point, you know, I need to just learn it on my own and not have too many expectations when I go out there of what things are gonna be like in certain situations. I just gotta figure it out.

“That’s kind of how I’ve always been my career or throughout my racing career. And we try to try to do that same thing in this. I’m not going into it blind. I’m still talking to people, but I’m not also like just living by what they tell me.”

As the most recent Cup Series driver to make a run at Indianapolis, Johnson detailed what Larson will have to keep an eye out for over the course of the Month of May and once the green flag drops on the 108th Indianapolis 500.

“I can only speak from the experience that I’ve had. Practice, qualifying – you can get your arms around that and safely find the edge, but when it comes to race time, and you are dealing with guys that drive those cars day-in and day-out and know how to just dance on that edge – it’s tough, and the cars are in a much bigger aero disadvantage deeper in practice,” said Johnson.

“If you are able to maintain track position and keep him up front – I think he will have a really good day. I think Kurt’s (Busch) experience really showed that. If you keep clean air on the car, I think it helps the lack of experience that a stock car driver would have going in.

“Thankfully, you do get a fair number of laps with the open test session and the way the two weeks unfold. You do get a lot of laps, and in that environment with some air on the car – you can get a sense for it, but come race day, man, you don’t want to put it in the fence. By the way, that wall hurts in an INDYCAR – there really are consequences for your mistakes made in an INDYCAR.”

The next IndyCar experience for Larson will come in about a month, with practice for the Indy 500 beginning on May 14, leading into qualifying that weekend and the main event on May 28.

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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.