Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: Where Will Kyle Larson Finish in Indy 500, Coca-Cola 600?

Where will Kyle Larson finish in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600?

Tom Blackburn: Kyle Larson‘s finish in the Indy 500 will come down to his comfort level in maneuvering through traffic. Dallara’s UAK18 IndyCar aero kit with the aeroscreen has been a challenge to handle further in the pack because of the turbulent air it creates. When Jimmie Johnson ran in 2022, he learned how difficult that was and never gained the necessary skills to overtake after the start of the race. Fernando Alonso suffered similarly when he made his second start in 2020 after easily running well in 2017 (and hasn’t returned because of it). So if Larson can learn quickly how to close his car to get runs on the long straightaways, he will be in a decent spot. Arrow McLaren has been massively consistent since 2019 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, so Larson has the right horse under him to be competitive. It will truly come down to how great and well-rounded he is as a driver. Expect his finish at the Indy 500 to be very good if he figures it out.

As for the Coca-Cola 600, he will run exceptionally well because everything will slow down for him and he will feel like the race is taking forever after getting out of a 220 mph racecar. Top-five finish at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

James Krause: Larson has a chance to not just eclipse Tony Stewart’s 2001 double performance — a sixth at Indianapolis and a third at Charlotte — he has a legitimate chance to be the first driver to win one of those two events. Winning the Indy 500 in his first NTT IndyCar Series race sounds like a longshot, but the odds don’t seem so steep when he records one of the fastest laps on Fast Friday and qualifies fifth. While a win there might shock the world, I can’t say a top 10 at the Brickyard would be all too surprising having seen what he’s done this month. As for Charlotte, he’s only gone out and led 379 laps in the last three runnings of the 600-miler with a win in 2021. I could see Larson ending Sunday night with a trophy, and maybe even two.

Mark Kristl: Even though Larson has been fast, competing in a race is a different animal. So I’ll pick him to finish sixth, the same spot as his qualifying time. While he will have a racecar capable of winning at Charlotte, and he won there three years ago, his exhaustion from the day will cost him on the last restart and he’ll wind up third.

Mike Neff: Assuming he completes the 500, he’ll end up eighth. At Charlotte, he’ll roll home second. The weather at Indianapolis could, of course, screw up the whole thing.

See also
Open Wheel Archive: The 1988 Indianapolis 500

Is Kyle Busch starting to feel the pressure of Richard Childress Racing’s lack of success?

Krause: While he might not actually “suck as bad as” Ricky Stenhouse Jr. right now as far as standings are concerned, Kyle Busch is entering the point where he should be feeling the pressure to find victory lane. Eight different winners in the first 13 races mean half the playoff spots are taken, with Ross Chastain, Ryan Blaney, Ty Gibbs, Chris Busecher and others yet to reach victory lane. With every new winner, the squeeze gets tighter on Busch to not just perform well but to win. While teammate Austin Dillon has been no help bringing the organization good finishes, it’s fair to say the expectations for Busch were high coming into the season with three wins last year. Failing to make the playoffs would be a total blunder by Busch and RCR, and everyone involved is aware of how real that possibility is, even as they sit just above the points cut line.

Neff: Busch is frustrated with this new car and also being hindered by the lack of practice. He was always great at dialing a car in over a weekend through practice and the race. The reduced practice time is really costing him in terms of fine tuning. RCR had speed early last year early. It’ll get it back.

Kristl: Yes. RCR has been struggling over the past year and Busch does not have a teammate who is thriving. Therefore, it’s harder for Busch to attain new information that could help him turn his season around. Busch also is 39 years old, so clearly not in his prime, and all those factors have resulted in him not contending as often, causing subsequent frustration.

How can NASCAR and INDYCAR build on the popularity of Larson running the double?

Neff: Unless Larson runs more races, there isn’t much for INDYCAR to do. NASCAR can really capitalize if Larson has a strong run at Indianapolis. It should already be taking advantage of his generational talent.

Kristl: If Larson wins the Indy 500, that’s an enormous win for NASCAR. One of its drivers just won the most prestigious racing event in the United States. INDYCAR has more of a challenge. Larson is a NASCAR driver and dirt racing star, and this is a one-off. So INDYCAR must be more creative with its marketing. For its next race at the Streets of Detroit, highlight the drivers who raced against Larson the most. Because if those drivers beat him and he runs well, that’s a testament to their skills too.

Krause: It’d be a challenge to find the right place and time, but I really enjoyed when the two series did the doubleheader weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course the past few seasons. There’s a lot of places where the two series crossover outside of the Brickyard, so maybe a different venue would add some excitement. Beyond that, the easiest thing they can do is try and collaborate to give each other their own time slots so they don’t split their audience.

Blackburn: There is such a great opportunity presented for the two top forms of American motorsports to market this and gain a lot of cross-promotion. With Rick Hendrick and Jeff Gordon being there with Larson during the race, and former Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan around, this is truly an interconnection of racing in America. Heck, NASCAR officials should be on the ground in Indy to show support for this endeavor. This should pave the way to help each series regain motorsports popularity in the country, to get drivers on the front page of magazines, digital platforms, talk shows, etc.

Unfortunately, INDYCAR has very little marketing savvy to speak of, and once the race is over, it will fall back into niche status. There was no sizable long-term viewership growth when Johnson or Kurt Busch ran the race (granted Johnson didn’t do the Double), I’d expect the same will occur this year. NASCAR probably won’t amp up the Larson drive too much as they have taken a very prominent position in marketing its racing versus working with other series, so expect a few updates and then a jump into the Coca-Cola 600.

In a perfect world, the two series would bridge this into a great working relationship to cross-promote each other’s stars, to try and build up the motorsports fans in America, instead of trying to make the fan bases choose one over the other. Formula 1 is clearly coming, evidenced by those Miami viewership numbers, and this day is the greatest racing day because none of the three series compete against one another. This should be used as an example of how to operate moving forward.

See also
ARCA Preview: General Tire 150 at Charlotte

What is the better pipeline for NASCAR, the ARCA Menards Series or the zMax CARS Tour?

Kristl: ARCA for two specific reasons. First, ARCA is a NASCAR-owned series. If its teams favor the CARS Tour instead, that shows a failure by NASCAR to truly use ARCA as a developmental series. The other reason is that while CARS is popular, has grassroots short tracks that fans love and has competitive fields, ARCA goes to many racetracks on the NASCAR circuit, including Daytona International Speedway, Iowa Speedway and Michigan International Speedway. CARS racecars cannot go to those tracks. NASCAR teams want drivers who are good at all the various types of tracks. CARS only visits short tracks.

Neff: The ARCA cars are more similar to the NASCAR Cup Series car than the CARS late model. Both are perimeter chassis, so they should both be a good breeding ground, but ARCA should ultimately be better.

Krause: There’s no real wrong answer to this, but CARS gets drivers better prepared to hop into a ride in NASCAR and be competitive right away. Outside of the fact that CARS isn’t going to any superspeedways or road courses, the one huge difference I notice is the amount of competition there is in CARS compared to ARCA. While it seems Venturini Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing tend to dominate a thin field of competitive ARCA teams, four different CARS teams have collected wins in 2024 with five different pole winners.

About the author

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Mark Kristl joined Frontstretch at the beginning of the 2019 NASCAR season. He is the site's ARCA Menards Series editor. Kristl is also an Eagle Scout and a proud University of Dayton alum.

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What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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James Krause joined Frontstretch in March 2024 as a contributor. Krause was born and raised in Illinois and graduated from Northern Illinois University. He currently works in La Crosse, Wisconsin as a local sports reporter, including local short track racing. Outside of racing, Krause loves to keep up with of football, music, anime and video games.

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Tom is an IndyCar writer at Frontstretch, joining in March 2023. Besides writing the IndyCar Previews and the occasional Inside Indycar, he will hop on as a fill-in guest on the Open Wheel podcast The Pit Straight. His full-time job is with the Department of Veterans Affairs History Office and is a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. After graduating from Purdue University with a Creative Writing degree, he was commissioned in the Army and served a 15-month deployment as a tank platoon leader with the 3d ACR in Mosul, Iraq. A native Hoosier, he calls Fort Wayne home. Follow Tom on Twitter @TomBlackburn42.

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CCColorado

Lots of good opinions guys! Wow.
Larson is a generational talent as we all know, and will be tested greatly. Movie type endings have him winning, and we’d all love that. But there are a minimum of 10 pit stops at the 500, 32 other hungry drivers and thousand things that can go wrong. And that’s IF they get the race run.
A top 10 in both events seems doable if all goes well, top 5 would be a major feat. Win 1 of 2? Miracle.
As a Larson fan… I’m crossing fingers for that last one!

Drew

For Kyle larson’s Memorial Day double he will finish 4th at the Indy 500 and then he will win the Coca Cola 600 and be come the second driver to complete 1100 miles for Hendrick motorsports.

Echo

Sorry but rain is going to take away his chance. The only hope is that the Indy 500 is the next day. If it came to a late start at Indy I would love to see Rick let him skip Nascar. But that won’t happen.

Carl D.

NASCAR would have to issue a waiver. THAT won’t happen.

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