Only minutes after taking the Indianapolis 500 checkered flag, NASCAR champion Kyle Larson was on a helicopter heading from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to the NASCAR Cup Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway Sunday night — a quick maneuver to the next race and indicative of his quick Indy debut.

Penske Racing‘s Josef Newgarden earned his second consecutive Indianapolis 500 win with Larson claiming an 18th-place finish in the No. 17 Arrow McLaren Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet — the ultimate position not a true reflection of Larson‘s race day, nor his experience at the speedway where he certainly made his presence known this month.

The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion was consistently among the fastest in practices and turned in a fifth-place qualifying effort — best among rookies and impressive even among veterans.

He ran among the top-10 for much of the early laps on Sunday — wheel-to-wheel with IndyCar‘s best — even leading four laps late in the race. A slight miscue on pit road during a stop on Lap 130 ended up costing Larson. He was running fifth when he stopped but was penalized for speeding and dropped as far back as 22nd position before strategizing his way forward later in the race.

“Proud to finish but pretty upset at myself,” Larson, 31, said of the pit road mistake. “If I could have executed a better race, you never know what could happen.”

A four-hour rain delay Sunday at Indianapolis forced Larson‘s Hendrick Motorsports team to make a decision on the timing of his “Double Duty” — originally an 1,100 mile effort equal to Indy‘s 500 miles and Charlotte‘s 600 miles.

The decision to stay at Indy despite the starting delay was answered when team owner and NASCAR Hall of Famer Rick Hendrick posted a video on social media showing himself on the Indianapolis starting grid and saying simply, “Time to go racing at Indy.”

Hendrick and team executive Jeff Gordon were avid supporters of Larson‘s quest, even sending Larson‘s entire and enthusiastic No. 5 NASCAR Cup Series team to Indianapolis on Friday for the traditional “Carburetion Day” — final practice for the 500.

Larson flew to Charlotte following Saturday‘s Public Drivers Meeting and 500 Festival Parade and practiced and qualified his NASCAR Cup Series car earning a 10th-place position on the Coke 600 grid. Xfinity Series veteran Justin Allgaier started the car and Larson planned to finish the race.

“I would love to come back next year, I feel like I learned a lot during the race,” Larson said Sunday before leaving Indianapolis. “I made a couple mistakes early – one with the restart, not sure what I did there, and somehow got myself into third.

“I feel like I did a really good job on the restarts and learned a lot. Definitely know what I need to do better for the balance when I come back. Then obviously I smoked the left front [tire] or something on a green flag stop. … It killed our opportunity.

“…. Bummed at myself, but big thank you to Arrow McLaren, Hendrick Motorsports. … Everybody that‘s a part of this. We‘ll go hop on the jet and see if I can get into the 600 somehow.”

— NASCAR News Wire —

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