NASCAR: Dark horse Memorial Day Double candidate?

Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) /

Kyle Larson is set to compete in IndyCar’s Indy 500 and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 in 2024. But could someone else attempt the Memorial Day Double before then?

Kyle Larson has long been seen as a potential candidate to run the Memorial Day Double, competing in both IndyCar‘s Indy 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and NASCAR‘s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the same day.

A deal for the 30-year-old Elk Grove, California native finally came to fruition, but for next year. Larson, who drives the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet full-time in the NASCAR Cup Series, is set to compete for Arrow McLaren, with support from Rick Hendrick, in a Chevrolet in the 108th running of the Indy 500 next May.

The deal sets him up to become the fifth driver to attempt the Memorial Day Double and the first since 2014.

But could it really make him the sixth?

Attempts of the Memorial Day Double have become increasingly rare. From 1994 to 2004, nine attempts were made by four different drivers, though one driver, Davy Jones, failed to qualify for the Coca-Cola 600 in 1995.

John Andretti attempted it in 1994, Tony Stewart attempted it in 1999 and 2001, and Robby Gordon attempted it in 1997, 2000, 2002, 2003, and 2004. Since then, only Kurt Busch has attempted it, doing so in 2014.

There have been rumblings surrounding a number of drivers potentially doing the Memorial Day Double. Kyle Busch is in a similar situation to that of Larson in that he has been seen as a candidate to do it for several years, and he was even in discussions with Arrow McLaren to do it in 2023 before they opted to go with experience and selected 2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan.

But is there an even more obvious Indy 500/Coke 600 Double candidate than Busch, one who already competes in both IndyCar and NASCAR?

Jimmie Johnson spent 19 seasons competing full-time in the Cup Series for Hendrick Motorsports from 2002 to 2020, and he made the switch to IndyCar in 2021. He competed in only the road and street course races for Chip Ganassi Racing that year, but in 2022, he became a full-time driver and made his Indy 500 debut.

Johnson announced shortly after the 2022 season ended that he would not be returning to IndyCar full-time in 2023, and he announced shortly thereafter that he would be returning to the Cup Series as a part-time driver and co-owner of Petty GMS Motorsports (now Legacy Motor Club).

Nothing other than his Daytona 500 qualifying attempt has been confirmed regarding his 2023 schedule, meaning that he could theoretically run the Coca-Cola 600.

While Chip Ganassi Racing have already replaced Johnson, confirming rookie Marcus Armstrong as the driver of their fourth entry for the road and street course races and confirming two-time Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato as the car’s driver for the oval races, team owner Chip Ganassi is reportedly waiting on Johnson to make a decision on the Indy 500.

This implies that the team are willing to add a fifth entry for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, as they did last year when Kanaan put together the funding. Considering Johnson’s backing from Carvana, it really does appear to be solely up to the 47-year-old El Cajon, California native.

One thing that could stand in Johnson’s way is the fact that high on his list for 2023 is the NASCAR All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway, and that is scheduled to take place on the same day as the second day of Indy 500 qualifying.

But if he opts to compete in the Indy 500 anyway (whether that means not competing at North Wilkesboro Speedway or doing a “pre-Memorial Day Double”), why not go for the Memorial Day Double?

He has literally said that he wants to do it in 2023, yet for some reason it’s not being talked about, and Larson’s attempt is already being billed as the fifth.

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The fifth ever Memorial Day Double attempt might garner quite a bit more publicity than even a seven-time Cup Series champion making his Indy 500 debut, and Johnson has all of the pieces in place — a potential deal with Chip Ganassi Racing and a driver/owner role with Legacy Motor Club — to make it happen in 2023.