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May 20, 2024

‘Kyle did Kyle things’: Larson caps ‘seamless’ top-five days at both Indy, North Wilkesboro

NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. — Kyle Larson has made same-day journeys to drive different types of race cars before. He mentioned after Sunday night’s NASCAR All-Star Race some of those pavement-to-dirt transitions — New Hampshire to Eldora and Richmond to the Knoxville (Iowa) Nationals, to name two.

But this? Going from a strong showing at pole day for the Indianapolis 500 to historic North Wilkesboro Speedway for the NASCAR All-Star Race was a next-level experience.

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“It’s different. It’s a bigger magnitude,” Larson said from North Wilkesboro’s pit road as the last hours of a busy day ticked away. “But I’ve done it, probably more than five times, so maybe that makes me be a little bit more relaxed on days like today. But either way, I mean, the magnitude of it’s much cooler.”

Larson capped his action-filled Sunday with a fourth-place All-Star finish in a No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet he had not driven in either practice or qualifying. His first time on the freshly repaved track came after two days and multiple rounds of qualifying at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where he (maybe fittingly) earned the No. 5 starting spot for his Indy 500 debut, which will be the first leg of his planned Memorial Day Weekend double. That journey will culminate next Sunday with another epic motorsports travel day, making the trip from the venerable Brickyard to NASCAR’s longest race, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (6 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

RELATED: ‘Great week so far’ at Indy for Larson | At-track photos

This past Sunday’s logistics went about as smoothly as could be, Larson said. Team owner Rick Hendrick recruited former Cup Series champ Kevin Harvick out of the FOX Sports booth to drive the No. 5 Chevy in the preceding days’ practice and qualifying, and the car’s balance come race day was better for it. After his qualification efforts at Indy were complete, Larson’s support team executed his minute-by-minute travel timetable with plenty of time to spare. He waved to cheers from the assembled fans at the 0.625-mile track upon his arrival.

Kyle Larson greets fans at North Wilkesboro ahead of the NASCAR All-Star Race after qualifying fifth for the Indy 500 hours prior.
James Gilbert | Getty Images

“They’ve got a great process and great people in place to make things very seamless for anybody. We all heard Kevin talked about it and give them praise, so yeah. I mean, Hendrick Motorsports is the best,” Larson said. “Thanks to Kevin and everybody working together to get our car in a good spot, and I had a lot of fun. I felt like I was able to get up to speed right away. I didn’t feel like it took any time.”

Larson dropped to the rear of the 20-car field for the All-Star Race start after the team’s driver change but pecked his way to the upper reaches of the contenders in his bid to repeat at North Wilkesboro. A fresh set of the red-lettered, softer “option” tires for the final 50-lap segment to the end provided a short-term benefit that propelled him as high as third place behind eventual winner Joey Logano and runner-up Denny Hamlin, but their effectiveness faded in the closing stretch.

No. 5 Chevy crew chief Cliff Daniels noted Larson’s resilience in advancing through the stressful structure of Indy 500 qualifying after an early mechanical hiccup, then his ability to carve his way into contention after nightfall in Wilkes County. It marked the first “historic weekend” in back-to-back weeks, Daniels said, as Larson switched from a lithe IndyCar at speeds exceeding 240 mph to a rumbling stock car at a classic short track all in one day.

“We just kind of had to chip away at the race,” Daniels said. “Looking back, there’s things that I want to say I could have done different or not, I don’t really know. But all in all, the team was really tough this weekend. Road crew did an amazing job. Pit crew hung tough today. Kyle did Kyle things, and so much fun to watch him move around and go drive hard and be exciting on restarts. Super, super proud of his effort, and all in all, I think we have a lot to be proud of as a team. We’re going to keep our nose down. We’re going to keep digging because the next two weeks are still going to be very action-packed for us. But I think we’re built for it, and we’ll keep marching forward.”