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Kyle Larson’s busy schedule will ramp up before May’s 1,100-mile ‘double’

NASCAR's Kyle Larson watches practice for the Indianapolis 500 auto race from an Arrow McLaren pit box at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 18, 2023, in Indianapolis. Larson announced that he will drive in the 2024 Indianapolis 500 for Arrow McLaren. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Cars unveiled for Kyle Larson’s attempt at the ‘double’ next May

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Kyle Larson might be the busiest driver in motorsports.

He started Saturday by practicing and qualifying for the Brickyard 200 then traveled to Iowa where he led all 50 laps to claim his second win in three years at the prestigious Knoxville Nationals. A red-eye return to Indy had him back in time for Sunday’s race, where he finished eighth, and even the pre-race news conference to discuss his attempt at racing’s double next May.

And with additional trips booked for Indy in preparation of what he hopes will be 1,100 miles of racing in one day, Larson, admittedly, is trying to strike the proper balance between chasing a second Cup title and prepping for his IndyCar debut.

“I’m sure once things slow down in the offseason and I have time to sit around and think about the upcoming season is when it’s really going to hit,” Larson said, describing his thoughts about driving next year’s Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600. “I’m sure that’s when all the nervousness will start to creep in as well as the excitement.”

Larson won’t be the first to try one of racing’s rarest of feats. The late John Andretti started in 1994. Robby Gordon, Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch all made the attempt. The last to try was Busch in 2014.

The Hendrick Motorsports drier and 2021 Cup champ seems an apt choice to give it a shot given his history. He’s won in sprint cars, midgets and trucks, won on a variety of surfaces and rarely seems to take days off.

In some ways, Larson appears to be a throwback to former IndyCar stars Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt, who eagerly competed in almost any series anywhere around the world.

But Larson’s journey will be very different from theirs.

While today’s cars are safer, they’re also more technical and require more prep time. The larger roles sponsors, engine manufacturers, team owners and contracts play can create additional complications — if everyone is not on the same page.

So Rick Hendrick and Arrow McLaren’s IndyCar officials are trying to find the best way to assure Larson’s papaya and blue No. 17 IndyCar is as competitive as his similarly painted No. 5 Cup car in May. Both were unveiled Sunday morning in Indy.

Larson has already been fitted for his IndyCar seat and hopes to run laps on the 2.5-mile oval in October.

“We’ve done some laps in the sim. We’re getting ready, as Mr. H mentioned, do some first real running here in October,” Arrow McLaren director of IndyCar racing Gavin Ward said. “But our goal is just to build up and get as much prep and seat time as we can so we can hit the ground running.”

That process actually began earlier this year.

Larson came to Indy three months ago for a sneak peak at Indy’s unique four-lap qualifying format and to get a sense of the atmosphere. He’s also being advised by Arrow McLaren’s driver coach Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy champion Tony Kanaan.

What’s the biggest difference Larson has noticed so far?

“The max brake pressure there is like 2,800 pounds. That’s insane,” Larson said after his time on the simulator. “I’ve never pushed anything that hard. Here into Turn 1, we’d be like 800 pounds of brake pressure max. So trying to get your brain wrapped around slamming the pedal that hard and releasing it quickly but also maintaining some (speed) was super difficult for me.”

Yet even with Indy looming and a possible rookie orientation test in October, Larson’s primary focus, for now, will be the Cup Series.

With two wins, he’s safely locked into the 16-car playoff field for the seventh time in eight years. And while he’s fourth in the standings with two races left in the regular season, he has bigger hopes for October when he returns to the Brickyard amid what he hopes still will be a title chase.

And there’s no time to waste.

“Obviously, looking forward to October and getting to do the rookie orientation,” he said. “I am — I have thought about that a little bit, so I am nervous when I think about it. But I think once I get in the car, a lot of those nerves will hopefully go away after a few laps, and it will feel like home — just like all the other race cars I drive.”