Race Weekend Central

Kyle Larson Powers to Indianapolis 500 Pole Day

First-time Indianapolis 500 entrant and 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson showed up in form during Saturday’s (May 18) qualifying session, earning himself the opportunity to fight for pole on Sunday with the sixth fastest four-lap average of the day.

The sixth driver to hit the track on the day, Larson was forced to abort his first attempt after his No. 17 Chevrolet experienced a loss of power. Notably, Larson still had his transmission, and theoretically could have finished his run to put a time on the table, but instead opted to bring the car back to the pits for assessment.

“There was some alarm that popped up on the dash and it just cut a bunch of power,” Larson said. “I haven’t talked to anybody so I don’t know what happened. But that sucks. I don’t know how our run was looking but the car felt pretty balanced.”

It was later confirmed that Larson’s sudden loss of power was a ‘plenum event,’ an anomalous occurrence which became less anomalous and more common as the day carried on. Caused by a sudden ignition of fuel in the plenum gasket, most frequently when upshifting or downshifting, such events can cause a sudden loss of power to the engine, which may or may not reset when the throttle is applied once more.

In short, Larson’s first run was undone by an unsuccessful shift from sixth to fifth gear.

Shortly before the halfway point of the session, Larson returned to the track to make his first run of the day in earnest. The Californian’s Arrow McLaren/Rick Hendrick Chevrolet was up for the task and carried its driver to top speeds of 240 mph entering turns 1 and 3 throughout the four-lap attempt.

Larson’s first lap averaged 232.951 mph, 232.796 mph for the second lap. Lap three clocked at 232.395 mph before a final lap of 232.114 mph. Larson’s four-lap average came to 232.563 mph, behind fifth-placed Kyle Kirkwood and ahead of seventh-fastest Felix Rosenqvist.

Larson’s effort advances him to Sunday’s Pole Day qualifying session where the top 12 drivers from Saturday will battle for pole position. The previous best qualifying effort by a driver attempting Double Duty was put up by Robby Gordon, who qualified third for the Indy 500 in 2003. Most recently, Kurt Busch qualified 12th in his 2014 entry in Andretti Global’s fifth car.

See also
2024 Indianapolis 500 Saturday Qualifying Live Report

“I’ll definitely take that,” Larson said after completing his full run. “Hopefully it’s enough to make the Fast 12 for tomorrow, that’d be really cool. Happy with the balance of the car, proud of the team for all of us not freaking out after not getting to complete that first run. Just great to be in the show … An awesome opportunity and having a blast so far.”

Larson also said that the familiarity of making a second attempt made a big difference for his level of comfort in the car.

“I feel like the nerves were a lot less going the second time, even without completing the first run, I just felt less nervous,” he said. “It’s just good to get a run in. I don’t ever get to qualify like that, where you get multiple shots at it … I felt much more comfortable there that last time.”

Among Larson’s biggest supporters is four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and Vice Chairman of Hendrick Motorsports Jeff Gordon. Speaking to Fronstretch last year, Gordon described the race as “a dream of mine,” citing his background of growing up in Indiana. On Saturday, Gordon reiterated the significance of the 500, calling the effort between Larson, Hendrick and McLaren “another dream come true.”

Larson and the other 11 fastest drivers from Saturday will take to the track to chase pole position on Sunday, May 19, at 3:05 p.m. ET, with coverage on Peacock. The Hendrick driver’s countdown to Indianapolis started at 500 days when he announced his intent to contest the 2024 running in January of last year.

Now, for Larson and his team, that goal is only eight days from coming to fruition.

About the author

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Alex is the IndyCar Content Director at Frontstretch, having initially joined as an entry-level contributor in 2021. He also serves as Managing Director of The Asia Cable, a publication focused on the international affairs and politics of the Asia-Pacific region which he co-founded in 2023. With previous experience in China, Japan and Poland, Alex is particularly passionate about the international realm of motorsport and the politics that make the wheels turn - literally - behind the scenes.

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A 6th place qualie is impressive!!

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