Indy 500 set for a rare appearance in 2024, fifth time ever

A NASCAR Cup Series driver who had long been rumored to compete in the Indy 500 is finally set to do so in the 108th running this May.
Kyle Larson, Arrow McLaren, Hendrick Motorsports, Indy 500, IndyCar
Kyle Larson, Arrow McLaren, Hendrick Motorsports, Indy 500, IndyCar / Adam Cairns/Indianapolis Star / USA

Kyle Larson had been long discussed as a NASCAR Cup Series driver capable of becoming the next to attempt the Memorial Day Double.

The Memorial Day Double involves competing in the Indy 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and then flying down to Charlotte Motor Speedway to compete in the Coca-Cola 600 later Memorial Day Sunday evening.

Larson has always been seen as a driver capable of driving anything with wheels, and IndyCar certainly fits that bill.

Yet year after year, the Elk Grove, California native had still not gotten the chance to behind the wheel of a car at the highest level of American open-wheel racing.

One link to the Indy 500 was that he had driven full-time for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Cup Series for several years, and Chip Ganassi Racing is an IndyCar powerhouse.

But when he signed with Hendrick Motorsports for 2021 after his 2020 suspension and firing, there were legitimate doubts about Larson potentially competing in the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" in the foreseeable future, given team owner Rick Hendrick's past in terms of restricting his Cup Series drivers from competing in other series.

However, as Hendrick has demonstrated by allowing Larson, as well as his teammates, to compete in various other non-NASCAR races since 2021, not all hope was lost.

It even led to discussions that Larson could attempt the Indy 500 with support from the Hendrick's team, which we now know to be true, and the late Robin Miller would be proud.

Kyle Larson finally set to run Indy 500

In early 2023, it was announced that Larson would compete in both the 2024 and 2025 Indy 500 for Arrow McLaren with support for Hendrick Motorsports, driving what is officially the No. 17 McLaren-Hendrick Chevrolet.

Larson has certainly proven his worth in the Cup Series, winning a series-high 10 races in his first year behind the wheel of the No. 5 Chevrolet and securing the championship to cap it off.

No driver in the Cup Series had won 10 races since seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson won his second straight title in 2007, and Larson did it in his first year as a Hendrick Motorsports driver -- and after a 2020 season that saw him miss 32 of 36 races, no less.

So if there is one driver who can afford to focus on something else, it's him; he's done it his whole career, and it doesn't seem to be hindering him.

Hendrick Motorsports saw that potential and jumped at the opportunity to join Arrow McLaren, a regular Indy 500 frontrunner. And now, 16 months later, we are just days away from Larson's first Indy 500 effort after he qualified in an impressive fifth place on Sunday (full starting lineup here).

Memorial Day Double history

The Memorial Day Double has only been attempted by four drivers, which adds another level of intrigue to Larson's bid. Two happen to have direct ties to the 2021 Cup Series champion.

It was most recently attempted by Kurt Busch, Larson's former Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, in 2014 when he finished in sixth place in the Indy 500, his first ever IndyCar race, prior to an engine issue derailing his Coca-Cola 600 attempt.

It was first attempted by the late John Andretti in 1994. Davy Jones tried to become the second driver to do it in 1995, but he failed to qualify for the Coca-Cola 600.

Instead, Robby Gordon became the second driver to do it, and he ended up doing it five times: 1997, 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2004. Tony Stewart, who has long been an admirer of Larson, given their shared dirt racing background, and even tried to sign Larson to Stewart-Haas Racing multiple times, did it twice, first in 1999 and then in 2001.

Stewart is the only driver to run all 1,100 miles on the same day, finishing in sixth place in the 2001 Indy 500 before finishing in third in the Coca-Cola 600. Larson's effort to become the second is dubbed the "Hendrick 1,100".

Busch's sixth place finish is tied with Stewart's and Gordon's (2000) for the best Indy 500 finish in a Memorial Day Double attempt. Aside from Stewart's third place finish in the Coca-Cola 600 in 2001, the only top 15 Coca-Cola 600 finish in one of these attempts is his fourth place finish in the 1999 race.

The 10-year drought between Busch's attempt and Larson's is tied for the longest between two Memorial Day Double attempts. After eight attempts were made between 1994 and 2004, it took until 2014 for Busch to make his.

Larson is a former Coca-Cola 600 winner, having dominated the race in 2021.

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The 108th running of the Indy 500 and the 65rd running of the Coca-Cola 600 are scheduled to take place on Sunday, May 26. The former is set to be shown live on NBC beginning at 11:00 a.m. ET, and the latter is set to be shown live on Fox beginning at 6:00 p.m. ET. Begin a free trial of FuboTV and don't miss either!