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Kyle Larson lands near the top of Indy 500 practice charts with qualifying on deck this weekend

Kyle Larson sits on pit wall during a practice session for the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Friday, May 17, 2024, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Kyle Larson finally got to spend some extended time on track preparing for the Indianapolis 500 on Friday, and he put his Arrow McLaren right near the top of the speed chart alongside mighty Team Penske with qualifying on deck this weekend.

Larson had turned just 85 laps the first three days of practice as rain kept dousing Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But the rain stayed away on Fast Friday, and Larson went exactly that: fast. The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion posted a lap of 234.271 mph that led the practice session until Colton Herta beat it out with the benefit of a slight tow.

Every car got a boost of about 100 horsepower on Friday that they will use for their qualifying runs this weekend.

“I expected it to feel like you’re going way faster than before,” Larson said, “but surprisingly, I think when the balance is OK and the grip is still there, it definitely feels faster but not, like, scary fast.”

Perhaps most importantly, Larson logged a four-lap average of 232.549 mph Friday to mimic qualifying, which begins Saturday for the 34 cars trying to make the 33-car show on May 26. The top 12 will advance to Sunday with a shot at the pole.

If Larson is among them, he’ll finish qualifying in Indianapolis before a helicopter — then a jet — whisk him to North Wilkesboro, where the NASCAR All-Star Race takes place Sunday night. It would be a dry run of sorts for the following Sunday, when Larson tries to become the second driver to complete the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in the same day.

“I think it would be pretty neat to make the fast 12, or whatever they call it. The fast six after that. I think that would be pretty neat,” Larson said. “Being a rookie, I don’t know if that’s expected but it would be pretty cool to make that.”

There have been just five drivers to attempt “the double,” and only Tony Stewart in 2001 completed all 1,100 miles.

“It’s difficult what he’s trying to do,” said defending Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden, who had the fastest four-lap average on Friday. “It’s a tough challenge. You know, he’s trying to juggle his day job and still figure this out, and the schedule behind all that. I think he’s got a lot on his plate and, you know, it’s fun to watch.”

Larson had grown frustrated by the lack of track time this week as weather and wrecks kept halting practice, and kept him from gaining some valuable experience. But just about everyone around Gasoline Alley seems to think that one of the most versatile drivers in motorsports will be just fine, including four-time Indy 500 winner Rick Mears.

“He’s a racer. He won’t have any trouble,” Mears said Friday. “I’ve been saying it for years, I can come out here or anywhere and test for three weeks and still learn more in the first 30 laps of the race than the three weeks of testing.

“Testing and practice, you don’t get put in positions you get put in the race,” Mears explained, “and that’s where you start learning, and that’s where the learning curve is. He’s a racer. He’s dealt with some other stuff throughout the years. That’s why I say he won’t have any trouble driving the car or going fast or any of that.”