NASCAR champion Kyle Larson will start fifth in his May 26 Indianapolis 500 debut after turning in an impressive four-lap qualifying average of 232.846 mph Sunday; the only race rookie to advance all the way to the Fast Six to settle the starting positions for the first two rows of the historic race.

Larson‘s four-lap average speed of 232.846 mph in the No. 17 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet was good enough to place him on the second row of the starting grid for the 108th Indianapolis 500, where he will be the fifth driver (joining John Andretti, Tony Stewart, Robby Gordon and Kurt Busch) to attempt auto racing‘s great Memorial Day Weekend famed “Double” — racing in the Indy 500 by day and later NASCAR‘s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“Just a great team, really, they prepared an awesome race car that stuck to the race track and also had speed,” Larson, 31, said Sunday of his Indianapolis qualifying effort. “Qualifying went a lot better than I could have ever hoped or anticipated.

“Just proud of Arrow McLaren, proud of everybody at Hendrick Motorsports that‘s been involved in this. Huge thank you to Rick Hendrick, Jeff Gordon and Jeff Andrews, Cliff Andrews, Chad Knaus, everybody involved to make this whole thing possible.

“Now switching my mindset over to the stock car and trying to figure out North Wilkesboro. Excited to get there.”

Moments after talking about his big lap, Larson rushed to a waiting helicopter at-track for a ride to a local Indianapolis airport where he boarded an airplane headed to North Carolina. From there he flew into Wilkes County Airport and then finally ,hopped on another helicopter to land at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway for tonight‘s $1 million to-win NASCAR All-Star Race — an event where Larson is the defending champion. NASCAR moved the green flag time back 15 minutes for the non-points All-Star race to give Larson a little wiggle room in transit.

 

It’s the same mode and order of transportation he‘ll take next Sunday to get from Indianapolis to the Charlotte track, where the driver of the No. No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet claimed the winner‘s trophy in 2021.

It has been quite a remarkable month for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champ, who currently leads the championship standings and already claimed a trophy this month with a win at Kansas Speedway on May 5. His open-wheel transition has been impressive as well. He has been consistently among the fastest at the famed 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway since Indy 500 practice began last week.

Larson‘s qualifying started off a little iffy this weekend when his car suddenly slowed during his first qualifying attempt on Saturday. But he went back out and answered it with such a fast four-lap average he vaulted into the top-12 that advanced to Sunday‘s final session. He was fifth fastest in Sunday‘s opening round to qualify for the Fast Six – and then ultimately fifth fastest in the final session.

Sitting trackside to support him all weekend was Hendrick Motorsports executive Jeff Gordon, the first driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series race (1994) at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He was smiling a lot — the pride in his team‘s driver, obvious to all.

“You know people used to ask me all the time, ‘can you even believe Kyle Larson?‘ and I used to think the same way, but I don‘t anymore,” Gordon said. “He just always steps up. It‘s fun to watch and be a part of this whole experience, the crowd getting into it, this team and how they stepped up.

“I can tell you it‘s a lot different being on this side of the wall. It‘s very nerve-wracking but it‘s also very exciting and pretty pumped to be going to this Fast 6. Amazing. Hope everyone‘s watching at home and enjoying it.”

Penske Racing, who also fields three cars in the NASCAR Cup Series, swept the three-car front row for the Indy 500 with New Zealander Scott McLaughlin turning in a record-setting four-lap average of 234.220 mph Sunday to claim his first ever Indy 500 pole position. His teammates, Will Power and defending race winner Josef Newgarden, will start alongside him.

Larson will start on the second row with his Arrow McLaren teammate Alexander Rossi on one side and A.J. Foyt Racing‘s Santino Ferrucci on the other.

Of the four drivers to have attempted The Double previously, the three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart is the only one to complete every lap of both races (2001) turning in what is still the best showing with a sixth-place finish at Indy and a third place later at Charlotte.

Final practice for the Indianapolis 500 is next Friday. Larson will qualify his NASCAR Cup Series Chevrolet on Saturday evening then return to Indianapolis.

— NASCAR Wire Service —

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