CONCORD, North Carolina — Reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson has the green light from team owner Rick Hendrick to attempt the Indianapolis 500/Coca-Cola 600 double—provided Larson can secure competitive equipment for the IndyCar spectacle.
Larson said nothing had changed in his desire to do the double, but this year, Hendrick and Jeff Gordon, vice chairman of Hendrick Motorsports, are amenable to the idea.
“I want to be in the best equipment possible, with the best crew,” Larson said on Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “So, yeah, I mentioned to Jeff and Rick that I’d like to do it, but I also did a year ago, too…
“It’s kind of up to them to find something. Rick didn’t want me doing it this year, but he said in the future I could.”
Larson joins Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson as possible NASCAR drivers in the field. Johnson has an interest in coming back for select Cup starts in 2023 as he’ll be part-time at best in INDYCAR. He has no links to a manufacturer which could help his cause.
Busch and Larson would have to run for a Chevy team which as we sit now, rides are drying up.
When Busch signed a new contract to race for Richard Childress Racing in 2023, he gave away some interesting tidbits. One was that he can race in the Indy 500 in the future.
“I can do it,” Busch said. “Any Chevrolet team INDYCAR teams call me up.”
He also said that Joe Gibbs was the one against Busch racing at Indy and that he made it a point in his next contract to have a clause that allows him to run Indy should he choose to do so.
There’s been strong rumors that a Kyle Busch appearance could happen as soon as next May. However, those aspirations are already looking slim. Here’s why.
You first have to look at the Chevrolet teams in the NTT INDYCAR Series. Team Penske, Arrow McLaren SP, Ed Carpenter Racing, AJ Foyt Racing, Juncos Hollinger Racing, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing each hold cars/engine packages.
Busch was originally linked to AMSP, but Zak Brown has put some cold water on that flame because he’s admitted that even if the team is to bring out a 4th Indy only car, he’d like experience in it.
While Busch has made 25 starts on these hallowed grounds (18 in the Cup Series, 7 in the Xfinity Series), none of them have been in an open wheel machine. Larson has less experience.
AMSP is already expanding to a three car full-time effort, so they’d like to have a veteran presence for a new car. Tony Kanaan has been linked there now. They also could bring back Juan Pablo Montoya.
Neither may not be in the cards for 2023 for that ride.
If not them, then what about Penske?
Busch, said in November of 2019 that Team Penske was actually an option when he thought that he’d be racing in the ‘500 a few years ago.
“Him and I have spoken about it though,” Busch said then. “He was one of the team owners that I was going to drive for if the opportunity presented itself.”
The promoter side of Roger Penske would love to have Busch or Larson. The owner side would say that it’s likely not feasible for his team. Penske’s cars haven’t been right for the Indy 500 in the last 3 years.
For 2020, they qualified 13-22-25-28. They’d finish 5-11-14-22 with 16 total laps led.
For 2021, they qualified 17-21-26-32. They finished 3-12-20-30 with 3 total laps led.
So they scaled back in 2022. Instead of 4 cars, they went to 3. While the overall season was a success with all 3 cars in the top 4 in the final standings including a 1-2 finish, at Indy, they were still quite a bit off.
They qualified 11-14-26. They finished 13-15-29 with 0 laps led.
So with 22 total laps led in 3 combined years, bringing a 4th car back out for Busch doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Which leads us to Ed Carpenter Racing as the next team up. Ed Carpenter lives for Indy and he’s not parking Conor Daly or Rinus VeeKay to make room for Busch or Larson. He’s never had 4 cars in a single race and I don’t see why that could magically change now. It’s not like they’re a juggernaut that can handle this, so I don’t see Busch or Larson and ECR being a fit in a 4th car.
Then it’s down Foyt. They have 2 cars for Santino Ferrucci and Benjamin Pedersen. The only way they run a 3rd car would be for Dalton Kellett. Larry Foyt said that it’s not likely in the cards to bring out a 4th car for May. After all, when they do run 4 cars at Indy, it never ends well for them.
“Right now what I’d say is we’re definitely two cars for sure, potentially could be three. I don’t want to speculate too much whether we’ll be two or three. But certainly two. There is a possibility of three, but I’m not sure where that’s going to end up yet.
“The only person we’re talking to is Dalton. Obviously, he’s been a part of the team. There’s a desire to work together, but we both know we have to go out and find some people to make that happen.
“We’re not going to do anything unless it was really going to strengthen the team. We’re both on the same page on that./
If not Kellett, then it’s no one else. Not even a 4th for Indy only either.
“Yeah, on the JR (Hildebrand) side, I don’t know that we’ll run an extra car at the 500. We just have to see how that shakes out,” Foyt said on the manner.
“At the moment some of that funding has gone into this program to make sure it was a full-time program. I think we may just not worry about an extra car at the Speedway this year is kind of the thought.
“Everything is still open. It’s still very early days. Hate to speculate too much. Yeah, that’s kind of where it’s at.
“If we ran a third, it would only be with Dalton, so… Not looking for a third outside of that at the moment.”
In fact, in 4 of the 5 years that they ran four cars here, one of the cars didn’t make the race. The only time that four cars for Foyt made the race was in 1987.
When they went to 4 cars the last time out for 2021, Foyt said this of the signing of JR Hildebrand for it.
“Growing to four cars, we wanted to make sure it’s a guy that had a lot of experience here,” said Larry Foyt. “He could actually contribute and be a helpful part to the team. It made a lot of sense.”
Busch and Larson again each doesn’t have the experience.
So that takes Foyt out leaving JHR and DRR.
Juncos Hollinger Racing isn’t likely going to attract a driver like Busch or Larson, plus they are actively looking for a 2nd driver. Callum Ilott isn’t going to get benched and it’s going to be hard to attract a 2nd driver with them knowing that they can’t race the Indy 500. While they could in theory get a rookie who has no Indy or oval interest, I just don’t see that realistically happening.
Which is why it’s likely down to DRR. I can’t see any reason Sage Karam isn’t back. With Santino Ferrucci going to Foyt, his ride is open. DRR could even get some help from RCR for that 2nd entry and put Busch or Larson in that seat.
Outside of that, there’s no other option for Busch or Larson or any other NASCAR driver for that matter at Indy in 2023.
AJ Foyt Racing could have an opening as they have 4 chassis. Juncos Hollinger Racing has a 2nd car that they’ll race next year but it may be hard to attract a driver with them knowing that they can’t race the Indy 500 so that option may not work.
I would think Penske, AMSP or ECR would be at the top of the list and can make it happen.