INDIANAPOLIS — The roller coaster of quality rides available for either NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Larson and/or Kyle Busch to appear in next May’s 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 show just how fluid of a situation this prospect really is. One moment, it looks great and like we could see both of them at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway next May. The next however, it looks bleak.
Now, it appears that there truly may be a path for at least one of them to come over.
First off, both have already stated their intentions to want to try it out. That’s not the problem.
“I want to be in the best equipment possible, with the best crew,” Larson said last month at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “So, yeah, I mentioned to Jeff (Gordon) and Rick (Hendrick) 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.”
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.”
The problem lately has been, what Chevy teams could they race for. Since each are a part of the bowtie camp in NASCAR, they’d have to run a Chevy in the Indy 500.
The Chevy teams for Indy?
Team Penske, Arrow McLaren SP, Ed Carpenter Racing, AJ Foyt Racing, Juncos Hollinger Racing, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing each hold cars/engine packages.
AMSP is now filled with Tony Kanaan driving the 4th car. They’re filled. 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 that they’d run a 3rd car would be for Dalton Kellett which has already been announced that it’s not happening. Larry Foyt said that it’s not likely in the cards to bring out a 4th car for May either. After all, when they do run 4 cars at Indy, it never ends well for them.
“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.
“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.
“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. Plus, Foyt hasn’t won an INDYCAR race since 2013.
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 and when I asked team owner Dennis Reinbold on Thursday if he’d entertain talking to either of the NASCAR drivers for Indy, he didn’t shut it down. In fact, his reaction had me thinking that talks have been had with them already.
“The only way I can answer that question right now is to say that we talk to everybody,” he told me. “We’ve gathered a lot of information and haven’t made a decision. It’s got to be the right fit, and I don’t know who it will be or if we’ll do it or not.
“At this point in time we plan to run two cars, but if it’s not the right fit, we won’t.”
Interesting response when he could have flat out said, “no.”
Reinbold also made it clear multiple times on the Thursday call that their main focus is Indy and that they specialize in being an superspeedway specialist. They
“We feel like we have as good a shot as anyone. We specialize in the 500,” says Reinbold. “We don’t specialize on those other tracks. We specialize at the Indy 500. We’re confident in our ability to get out there and prepare and do what it takes to be in the mix.
“We were in the mix last year, fortunately, with Santino and Sage as well running in the top five to six cars with Santino and around the 12th place car for much of the race last year.
“So we know what it takes and the preparation, dedication, offseason testing to get to that level, and it’s not inconsequential. There’s a lot that goes into it. You have to have the driver that can deliver on that once you get in that position. We feel good about it.”
DRR has truly been phenomenal at Indy lately. Sage Karam finished 7th in the primary car in 2021 while Santino Ferrucci was 10th a year ago in the 2nd entry. Each were really quick all month this past year with Ferrucci spending most of his time on race day in or near the top 5.
Which is why this could work for Busch or Larson with DRR. It’s an entry that either RCR or HMS could pair with too.
“We’re being very selective, to be honest with you, because we’re not in a huge hurry to do that,” Reinbold continued. “We’re already prepping both cars to be ready no matter what for May, and we’ve been doing that really since the checkered flag fell last May, this past May.
“So our preparation doesn’t change too much in that regard. We would rather do it sooner rather than later, but a lot of things have to play out. This offseason in INDYCAR has been a lot of things up in the air, as you know and have reported on. A lot of ways we’re waiting for some of the dominoes to fall, but we also have planned on controlling our own destiny, so we’re doing that.”
Outside of that, there’s no other option for Busch or Larson or any other NASCAR driver for that matter at Indy in 2023.
“It kind of went dark,” Busch said on Friday from the Phoenix Raceway, the site of the NASCAR season finale. “It all dried up.”
Larson agreed and spoke to the fact a few hours later saying that nothing moved forward but if something competitive came up, he’d jump all over it.
He says that with being a Chevy driver and not many Chevy seats left, it’s makes it tougher.
“It’s tough but I want to do it,” he continued.
Now they have a path if they want it.