If Kyle Larson Feels Like He Has Something to Prove, He Shouldn’t Run the Indy 500

One of the most compelling stories of the always short NASCAR offseason came a few days ago when Kyle Larson announced that he plans to enter the 2024 Indianapolis 500 in a car fielded by Arrow McLaren Racing and co-owned by his Cup Series boss, Rick Hendrick.

Larson, of course, is no stranger to extracurricular motorsports endeavors, having long been known for his eagerness and willingness to drive almost anything with wheels.

This will be Larson’s first foray into the world of open-wheel racing, however, so he’ll certainly face somewhat of a learning curve as he competes on arguably racing’s biggest stage.

While Larson’s plan to run the Indy 500 is undoubtedly rooted primarily in a desire to check off yet another box on what’s already been an extremely ambitious motorsports itinerary over the last several years, the 2021 Cup Series champion must tread cautiously and not become consumed by this latest pursuit.

Kyle Larson shouldn’t prioritize the Indy 500 outing over his day job

Now that we’ve established what’s almost surely Kyle Larson’s core motivation for venturing outside the world of NASCAR on the same weekend as NASCAR’s longest and most grueling race — the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway — let’s establish something else: Larson isn’t just running open-wheel’s most prestigious race to check a box, although that’s a huge part of it. No, it’s safe to assume that Larson also harbors dreams of actually winning the Indy 500, despite the lack of seat time he’ll have in open-wheel cars relative to the rest of the field.

And this is where Larson’s latest venture into the unknown becomes potentially problematic. If he was merely doing this for fun, we could all take solace in the knowledge that Larson’s IndyCar efforts would likely have little to no bearing on his efforts to win the Coca-Cola 600 just a few hours later. 

But knowing Larson and his highly competitive nature, he’s going to stop at nothing and do whatever it takes to drink the iconic winner’s milk in Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s hallowed Victory Lane — even if it means not being physically and emotionally ready to put his best foot forward in the Coke 600, which although nowhere near the Indianapolis 500 in notoriety is nonetheless widely considered the second most important race on the Cup Series schedule (trailing the Daytona 500, of course).

If Larson wants to have something left in the proverbial tank when the time comes to run 600 miles at Charlotte Motor Speedway, he shouldn’t lose even a minute’s sleep over Indy. Rather, he should treat the race at Indianapolis as little more than an exhibition that has no real bearing on anything because, in all reality, it really doesn’t. Meanwhile, he needs to treat the Coca-Cola 600 like his job, because that’s exactly what it is.

Kyle Larson’s resume is impressive enough without an Indy 500 win

So, how can Kyle Larson invest the time and effort required to compete at Indianapolis and get up to speed in open-wheel cars but not sweat the outcome of his cameo appearance? In short: by simply realizing he has absolutely nothing to prove.

After all, we’re not talking about a guy who has yet to “arrive” or become a household name in the world of motorsports. Already widely considered an elite talent, Larson put to rest any doubts about his abilities when he won the 2021 Cup Series championship in his first season with Hendrick Motorsports and became the first driver since Jimmie Johnson in 2007 to capture 10 Cup Series victories in a single year.

Larson added three more wins to his resume in 2022, giving him more wins over the past two seasons than any other driver. That includes 2022 Cup Series champion Joey Logano, Larson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate and frequent on-track nemesis Chase Elliott, and Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick — who have the most Cup Series wins among active drivers with 60 apiece. 

Along with his success in NASCAR, Larson is also a two-time winner of the famed Chili Bowl Nationals — an indoor Midget Sprint Car Racing event that draws competitors from all over the country each January. Combine this with everything Larson has achieved in NASCAR, especially in the past two years, and you’ve got a driver whose accomplishments are unrivaled by the vast majority of those against whom he competes.

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Winning the Indianapolis 500 would be a remarkable feat for Larson, as it is for any driver, but it’s not going to change the way anyone perceives the California native, because he’s already reached the Promised Land of his profession. Anything else at this point is just icing on the cake.

Let’s hope Larson agrees and doesn’t get too wrapped up in hunting a trophy at the 2024 Indy 500. The fact is, he has nothing to prove to anyone. And he shouldn’t feel like he has anything to prove to himself. The minute Larson starts feeling like he does is the minute he should change his plans and stick around Charlotte on Memorial Day weekend 2024.