With 500 days left until the 2024 Indianapolis 500 — yes, you read that right, 2024 — the 108th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing now has its first one-off driver entry, one that very well may steal the show.
Kyle Larson, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion and legendary dirt track racer, has linked up with Arrow McLaren, with support of his NASCAR boss Rick Hendrick, to run the 2024 Indy 500 on May 26. The 30-year-old Californian will (pending 2023 entries) become just the fifth driver to run The Double across IndyCar and NASCAR on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.
Similar to Kurt Busch, the last driver to have attempted The Double in 2014, Larson will have more than a year to ramp up his Indy car familiarity through testing opportunities that will likely include a day on a non-IMS oval, as well as running his Rookie Orientation Program months ahead of his Month of May debut, as many 500 rookies have done in recent years.
His livery for his Indy 500 debut, as well as his car number, will be announced at a later date, but his entry will be co-owned by Hendrick and carry title sponsorship from HendrickCars.com — Larson’s primary sponsor in the Cup series for his No. 5 Chevy-powered ride.
‘Competing in the Indianapolis 500 is a dream of mine and something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time — since I was a child, before I ever began competing in sprint cars,’ Larson said in a release. ‘To do it with Arrow McLaren and Mr. Hendrick, especially, is a dream come true.
‘I’m really looking forward to it, even though it’s still about a year-and-a-half away…and maybe (I’ll) get a win or two that day.’
The 2021 Coca-Cola 600 at CMS was Larson’s second of his 10 victories two years ago in what quickly became a dominant performance en route to his first Cup title in his maiden season with Hendrick Motorsports. To date, Larson’s won 19 points-paying Cup races as well as the 2019 and 2021 All-Star race and the 2014 Rookie of the Year award.
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Next year’s 500 will mark Hendrick’s first foray into IndyCar racing for the team owner whose stock car teams have won an all-time record 291 points-paying Cup races. He’s also NASCAR’s winningest owner on the IMS oval with 10 Brickyard 400 wins on the 2.5-mile oval (Jeff Gordon, 5; Jimmie Johnson, 4; Kasey Kahne, 1).
‘Having the opportunity to support Kyle, partner with an elite team like Arrow McLaren and promote HendrickCars.com in one of the world’s great auto racing events is truly unique,’ Hendrick said in a release. ‘Putting Kyle in top-level equipment and allowing ample time for him to prepare for such a difficult challenge was important.
‘A collaboration like this was what we needed to make it happen, and fortunately, the stars aligned. We’re 100% committed to doing it right and look forward to working with Zak and his organization.’
After being one of a handful of those in the NASCAR world that had raised their hands of late as possible candidates who might like to follow in the footsteps of Busch, Robby Gordon, Tony Stewart and John Andretti, Larson looked as if he might be primed to make a run at the 500 this year as McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown attempted to field a major name in a one-off ride alongside his three-car full-season tandem of Pato O’Ward, Alexander Rossi and Felix Rosenqvist. Larson, Hendrick and Gordon (the vice chairman of Hendrick Motorsports) held preliminary conversations with Brown’s squad but couldn’t come to a deal that made sense for both sides.
Additionally, McLaren’s IndyCar arm also flirted with Kurt Busch’s younger brother Kyle, after it was revealed the latter would be switching Cup teams and manufacturers in 2023 to Chevy and Richard Childress Racing from Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing. The younger Busch made clear in his initial statements of his long-held wishes to do ‘The Double’ and of his ability to finally pursue such an opportunity that Toyota and Gibbs had previously blocked. But in the end, Brown said he preferred an experienced driver and one that would be guaranteed to have the talent to contend for a win. Arrow McLaren signed just that in 2013 500-winner and 2022 3rd-place finisher Tony Kanaan.
As Kanaan had already hinted at to IndyStar late last year, his 22nd appearance in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing could very possibly be his last, though he’s said he’s not entering this May with that decision firmly made. In Arrow McLaren’s release regarding the addition of Larson, it referenced ‘an opening in its 2024 lineup’, hinting that Kanaan’s tenure at Arrow McLaren will almost certainly be for one race as the team considers bumping up to four full-time cars in 2024 that would make Larson its fifth driver.
There still exists a chance Larson’s attempt at ‘The Double’ might be preceded by Johnson, who said earlier this week he’s still considering a 500 opportunity with Chip Ganassi Racing — the team he ran a full-season IndyCar campaign with in 2022 before stepping away from full-time racing to pursue an ownership stake with what’s now known as Legacy Motor Club (previously Petty GMS) with Richard Petty and Maury Gallagher. Johnson is committed at the moment to making his debut in his No. 84 Chevy at the Daytona 500, and he’s also said he’d like to run a handful of other Cup races in 2023 — including possibly the All-Star race that directly conflicts with qualifying for the 500, as well as the Coca-Cola 600 in an attempt to add ‘The Double’ to his hall-of-fame resume.