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May 26, 2024

Race-day updates: Despite weather delay, Kyle Larson starts Indianapolis 500

Severe weather in the greater Indianapolis area created a string of uncertainties and, ultimately, a worst-case scenario for Kyle Larson’s attempt to run “The Double” on Sunday. In the end, the Hendrick Motorsports driver stayed in Indianapolis to race in the Indy 500 and missed the start of the Coca-Cola 600.

Persistent rain and lightning put the Indy 500 in line for a 4:45 p.m. ET start, meaning Larson was not able to run both the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in full as planned.

Hendrick Motorsports confirmed Sunday afternoon that Larson would stay in Indianapolis, and he took the green flag from the fifth position before ultimately finishing 18th. After an early miscue on a restart, Larson appeared comfortable on the track in an open-wheel machine. He methodically worked his way up and was running as high as sixth place before a late pit-road speeding penalty dashed his day.

Larson led a handful of laps late during pit cycles, but had to pit from the lead for fuel with less than 20 laps remaining. His plan now: Board a plane and fly to Charlotte to join the in-progress Cup Series race.

“I would definitely love to be back next year,” Larson said after the race. “I feel like I learned a lot throughout the race. I made a couple of mistakes early on the restart, but felt like I did a really good job on the restarts. … Obviously, I smoked a left-front or something on the green-flag stop and killed our opportunity. I’m proud to finish, but I’m pretty upset at myself. I just could have executed a better race. You never know what could have happened.”

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On standby for Larson in Charlotte was Justin Allgaier, a longtime veteran of the NASCAR Xfinity Series with 24 victories, 146 top fives and 267 top 10s, tied for the series record.

Allgaier started the Coca-Cola 600, meaning Larson — the current regular-season points leader — will need a waiver from NASCAR to be eligible for the 2024 NASCAR Playoffs. According to the NASCAR Rule Book, drivers must start all points races to be eligible for the postseason. The sanctioning body could grant a waiver to that rule for extenuating circumstances.

In last week’s time trials, Larson qualified fifth in his No. 17 Arrow McLaren Dallara-Chevrolet for his inaugural Indy 500 appearance. Back in his weekly wheelhouse on Saturday, Larson drove the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to a 10th-place qualifying effort around the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“It’s not just my decision,” Larson said of his Sunday plans. “I think it’s everyone within Hendrick — Rick Hendrick, Hendrick Automotive Group, Hendrick Motorsports, I think we’re all part of the decision. … There’s just been so much time and investment to make this Indy 500 happen. It’s been a build-up for over a year, so we need to run it, and I want to. I feel like I’ve got a really good shot to have a good run and potentially win. I want to be here, but I just wish it would all work out. I just want to be able to race both races the full distance.”

Weather forecasts over the past week warned of Sunday trouble as Larson, 31, attempted to become just the fifth driver to compete in both historic events on the same day. By Thursday, Larson admitted stress from the inclement conditions predicted to interfere, “but you just can’t really do anything or react until it’s kind of the moment,” he said.

Kurt Busch, the 2004 NASCAR Cup Series champion and 2017 Daytona 500 winner, was the last NASCAR racer to attempt the double back in 2014. Busch collected the Indy 500 Rookie of the Year honors with a sixth-place finish in Indianapolis before finishing 40th at Charlotte due to a mid-race engine failure.