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Kyle Larson - 1100 miles away from the unthinkable

Written by Dan Jones

Credit: James Black

"I’m grateful for the opportunity and am really looking forward to it even though it’s still about a year-and-a-half away. I’m really looking forward to competing in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 and maybe even get a win or two that day.”

The words of 30-year-old Californian, Kyle Larson, when motorsport headlines flashed the news on the 12th January 2023 that the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Champion would become the first driver since 2014 to compete in 'The Double,' teaming up with Arrow McLaren, as well as his resident Hendrick Motorsports for an attempt at the 'Greatest Spectacle in Racing.'

Fast forward that year-and-a-half to that very day. Rain permitting, Kyle Larson has 1100 miles between him and the greatest achievement that the motorsport world has ever seen, quite possibly that sports has ever seen. A driver with not one IndyCar race to his name, yet alone an Indianapolis 500, finds himself in the middle of the second row - but still doesn't seem a surprise to anybody in Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Credit: Joe Skibinski

"If Kyle Larson wins, it's Kyle Larson, so whatever. He wins everything. So I don't think it would make us look as idiots." - the words of two-time and defending IndyCar champion, Álex Palou, when asked about the potential outcome of Kyle Larson winning the 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500.

And maybe that tells you the whole story you need to know. The most reputable name in the IndyCar paddock wouldn't be embarrassed if a stock car driver turned up on IndyCar's own turf and blew everybody out the park. A testament to how good Kyle Larson really is.

It's Kyle Larson's motorsport diversity which allows him to have this almost superhuman reputation amongst the motorsport world - many believe the American to be on the same level, if not better, than three-time defending F1 Champion, Max Verstappen, a call led by his own teammate, Alexander Rossi. Rossi's comment when asked if he was capable of winning the Indianapolis 500 on debut: 'Yeah'

Larson holds an incredible itch for racing, he was simply born to race. Just a day after crashing out of the Darlington 400, and the evening before Larson steps into an IndyCar for the first official practice session, you find him scratching that itch, driving a sprint car around the dirt oval in Kokomo, Indianapolis.

Credit: James Gilbert

But maybe what has stood out the most about Larson is a mentality of someone who wants to win. Just hours after qualifying fifth for his maiden Indianapolis 500, Larson finds himself at North Wilkesboro Raceway for the NASCAR All-Star Race, not having set foot at the Speedway due to his Indianapolis commitments all weekend long. Larson's result - fourth, his reaction: 'I thought for sure we would win.' Whatever he races in, whatever he does, he won't settle for anything other than perfection.

And that may be the story of Larson's career. Whatever he steps into he finds incredible success. A NASCAR Cup Series Champion, a Coca-Cola 600 winner, a Daytona 24 Hour winner, A King's Royal winner, a Knoxville National Winner, A Chili Bowl Winner. Larson is a driver who was born to win, whatever car he steps into, whatever surface he's on, whatever schedule has been thrown at him - he holds a natural demeanour to perform at the top level everywhere he goes.

"You know, he's always felt like super confident. If he's nervous, he doesn't show it too much. He just believes in his ability. Once he gets in the car and gets comfortable, he wants to race." The words of team owner, Rick Hendrick, when asked about Larson's relaxed persona, "He's just a die-hard racer. He races in this race just like he would when he goes -- flies somewhere and gets in a sprint car or a midget. He just wants to get in the car and race. I think all the racing he's done has kind of built his confidence so much that he believes in himself and he believes in the team and what the team tells him the car will do, and then he figures it out on his own, and he's off to the races."

Credit: Chris Owens

"It definitely feels faster, but it’s not like scary fast, thankfully." Larson's words after stepping out his #17 Arrow McLaren on Fast Friday, when the Californian peaked at 241mph, with 233mph average lap speeds. And it's exactly that calm approach, but an equal willingness to learn which has guided Larson to so much success in his Indianapolis 500 journey so far: "But I really feel like it's not that different than what we do. Yeah, you're going faster, yes, the closing rate in the draft is bigger, but I feel like car balance and all that is fairly similar to what I'm used to, so I think for so long I feel like I've heard that, oh, an INDYCAR is way different than a stock car and the way you drive it is totally opposite, but it's really not." But his calmness about the journey is the thing that stands out the most: "I'm happy to be here. I haven't been stressed out yet."

But heading into race day, what makes Larson's attempts at motorsport glory so significant? Yes, the double has been done before, this isn't a new thing, but never before has it been attempted with an individual at the absolute peak of their powers, with two separate operations both performing to the peak of their powers.

Cast your minds back to the 12th January 2023. Larson's quote: 'Maybe even get a win or two that day.' This isn't a novelty, this isn't a gimmick or a show, there's a genuine belief that this is a driver who has the ability to do this - and yet nobody is doubting that either.

Credit: Joe Skibinski

It's quite strongly believed that it'd be easier for a NASCAR driver to slot into the Indianapolis 500 than an IndyCar driver in the Coca-Cola 600 - almost all the attempts at the double so far have been the former, but the question remains - is that simply testament to Larson's ability, where as an almost consolation - that is the common belief that a NASCAR driver can do this easier, or is he a driver so talented, that he can simply slot in?

If there's any driver in the world who could pull this off, it's Kyle Larson. Modern-day motorsport is incredibly hard to specialise in. Many speak about the days of Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt who were quick in anything they touched. But to do that in a modern-day motorsport world, with all the nutrition, fitness levels and growth of the sports, desginated pathways only make it really possible for drivers to specialise in one category. But Larson has managed to completely break that mould, it almost shouldn't be possible with the modern motorsport landscape - maybe a generational talent is an understatement.

Larson's attempts are unprecedented. A driver who genuinely has a chance at creating motorsport history that will be told for decades and decades to come. It's an unprecedented attempt at motorsport's greatest challenge. There have been suggestions that this could be a longer-term thing. But like Larson, you have to live in the here and now.

It's 1100 miles between Kyle Larson and the unthinkable.


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