Indy 500: Kyle Larson decision not as controversial as Jimmie Johnson

Like Jimmie Johnson in 2022, Kyle Larson was voted the Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, despite not finishing the race as the top rookie.
Kyle Larson, Arrow McLaren, Hendrick Motorsports, Indy 500, IndyCar
Kyle Larson, Arrow McLaren, Hendrick Motorsports, Indy 500, IndyCar / Grace Hollars/IndyStar / USA TODAY

For the second time in the last three years, a NASCAR Cup Series champion making his Indy 500 debut was voted Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, despite the fact that he was not the highest finishing rookie in the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

While those who voted on the award in 2022 tried to justify naming Jimmie Johnson the winner based on various "criteria" that were said to be considered, the consensus was that he won the award simply due to the fact that he is seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, and his Indy 500 debut generated a ton of publicity.

Johnson was strong throughout practice, but he was not the top rookie qualifier. More importantly, he was one of three rookies who crashed out of the race; four rookies finished the race, all in the top 20 and all on the lead lap. Johnson did lead two laps late in the race by going off sequence on fuel strategy.

It was a controversial decision to say the very least, and 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson winning this year's award was viewed in a similar manner.

But the reality of it is that Larson's Indy 500 Rookie of the Year award was nowhere near being as controversial as Johnson's.

It was Ed Carpenter Racing's Christian Rasmussen who led all rookies by finishing in 12th place, and he led a lap after starting in 24th. Larson finished in 18th after starting in fifth.

Larson and Rasmussen both spent much of the race inside the top 10, with Larson looking poised for a top five result before a late pit road speeding penalty. Interestingly, it was that speeding penalty which allowed him to lead four laps, as it put him in position to go off sequence on fuel strategy during a later caution flag period.

There is very legitimate argument to be made that Rasmussen deserved the award for being the highest finishing rookie.

Sure, the penalty is what cost Larson the top rookie result. But you know who didn't speed in the pits? Rasmussen.

A comment was made that, unlike NASCAR, IndyCar doesn't use stage points, and therefore how a driver runs throughout the race should not matter as much as the end result. It is, after all, the Indy 500, which is a 200-lap race around the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) Speedway, Indiana oval.

That is true, but when it comes to the Indy 500, that specific NASCAR difference is only true to a certain extent, as there are actually quite a few points awarded in qualifying; the top 12 qualifiers all score points, regardless of where they finish in the race itself.

For all other IndyCar races, qualifying only results in a single driver scoring one point for taking the pole position.

So it's not just about the race at Indy. Because he qualified in fifth place, making him by far the highest qualifying rookie in the field, Larson scored an additional eight points. By the time the end of the race rolled around, he actually did finish as the highest scoring rookie. He finished the race with 21 points; Rasmussen finished with 19.

By comparison, Johnson scored 12 points in 2022. Under the modern scoring format, he would have scored seven: five for a 28th place finish, one for qualifying 12th, and one for leading laps. The top rookie scorer was David Malukas with 28 points, Under the modern scoring format, he would have scored 14 for his 16th place finish. Johnson finished sixth of the seven rookies in scoring in 2022.

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The 109th running of the Indy 500 is scheduled to take place on Sunday, May 25, 2025.