Kyle Larson’s latest and longest IndyCar session included “a moment” behind the wheel.
Larson nearly lost control of his Arrow McLaren Chevrolet during a four-plus-hour test at Phoenix Raceway on Monday, but the NASCAR star and 2021 Cup Series champion managed to save his Indianapolis 500 ride from hitting the wall at 180 mph.
“Just got caught off guard a little bit,” Larson said Tuesday. “I went into Indy car turmoil, got a little bit loose into the corner, got to the apex. As I was leaving the bottom, it just started to get sideways. Was able to catch it.”
It was just another part of Larson’s learning curve as he prepares to make his Indianapolis 500 debut in May. He also is scheduled to drive the NASCAR race, the Coca-Cola 600, in Charlotte, North Carolina, later that day.
He would become the fifth drive to attempt “the double,” joining John Andretti, Robby Gordon, Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch. Stewart is the only driver to complete all 1,100 miles, accomplishing the feat in 2001.
Larson took to Phoenix for a single-car rookie evaluation Monday that stretched into the night. He went through five sets of tires as he practiced getting in and out of his pit stall as well as making in-car adjustments during short and long runs. He did little, if any, of those during his IndyCar rookie orientation at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in October.
“It’s always good when you can, as a driver, put yourself in new situations where you’re challenging your brain, you’re challenging yourself to evolve and learn something new, figure out the differences or similarities between race cars,” said Larson, who also co-owns and competes in a sprint-car series. “I think there’s still a ton for me to learn and a ton left out on the table for me to get comfortable.
“The more reps I get with everything, not just making laps around track, but in and out of the box like I mentioned, exiting pit road hard, stuff like that is going to be important.”
Larson said the Indy car felt similar to his much heavier Cup Series car, which he raced to a fifth-place finish in the exhibition Clash at the Coliseum last Saturday. He will be back in a Cup car next week at Daytona International Speedway to prepare for the season-opening Daytona 500.
“I don’t think they’re as far apart from each other as what the previous model NASCAR Cup Series car was like or what an Xfinity car might be like,” he said. “Those are quite a bit different than a Next Gen car. I feel like these new cars have really transitioned to an Indy car.”
Hendrick Motorsports is backing Larson’s effort to attempt double duty on Memorial Day weekend in a joint effort with McLaren for the 500. It will be the first foray into open-wheel racing for Rick Hendrick, the winningest team owner in NASCAR history, who will enter his first car ever in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
“For me to own a car in that race is pretty special,” Hendrick said. “I’m thinking about where I’m going to put it when it’s all over. I hope I got it in one piece. Anyway, I’m really excited about it.
“I know that’s a tall hill to climb against the talent; no different than if one of those (IndyCar) guys came over here (to NASCAR) and entered one of our races. … It’s going to be a really cool deal.”
AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer contributed to this report.
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