Indy 500: Why a startling Kyle Larson trend could be great news

The fact that Kyle Larson's Indy 500 odds shortened when they did could spell great news, news that doesn't actually have anything to do with his chance to win.
Kyle Larson, Arrow McLaren-Hendrick, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indy 500, IndyCar
Kyle Larson, Arrow McLaren-Hendrick, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indy 500, IndyCar / Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar / USA TODAY

The excitement surrounding Kyle Larson's Memorial Day Double attempt, the first such attempt to run both the Indy 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway since 2014, is real.

That was obvious from the moment it was announced two Januarys ago. But a development following Larson's participation in last month's open test at the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) Speedway, Indiana oval showed just how real it is, especially looking at it in hindsight.

Larson, who is considered a generational talent capable of winning in anything with four wheels, posted the second fastest speed during that test, putting him behind only reigning Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden on the final speed chart.

Entering the test, Larson's odds to win the race at DraftKings Sportsbook were hovering between the +2000 and +2500 range.

The open test resulted in his odds shortening all the way down to +700. The fact that such a change could be made just because Larson ran the second fastest lap in a weather-shortened test, one in which most teams didn't even run their speedway cars -- and in which no teams turned up their engines -- was bizarre.

We're talking about speeds that wouldn't even come close to getting into the Indy 500's field of 33.

Larson, who is competing for Arrow McLaren with support from Hendrick Motorsports, his NASCAR Cup Series, even jumped ahead of Newgarden, the winner of five of the six most recent oval races, on the odds list.

Newgarden, a two-time IndyCar champion and 29-time race winner, was literally getting less praise for beating Larson than Larson was getting for almost beating him.

Larson found himself listed with shorter odds than all eight former Indy 500 winners in this year's field. After the test, he was listed behind only Chip Ganassi Racing's Alex Palou, last year's polesitter.

Whether or not anybody got a sense that this was a bit of an overreaction quickly became immaterial. It didn't change the fact that the publicity surrounding Larson's Memorial Day Double attempt was, and still is, beyond significant.

Just look at how much the public, including a huge contingent of fans who aren't typical IndyCar/Indy 500 fans, have been paying attention. Look at the boost in television ratings for qualifying last weekend, as just another example.

The publicity surrounding Larson's effort is arguably even more significant than that which came with Jimmie Johnson's Indy 500 debut in 2022, Fernando Alonso's Indy 500 debut in 2017, and Kurt Busch's 2014 Memorial Day Double run. We'll even throw in Danica Patrick's 2018 return that experts said would never happen.

That's some pretty impressive company.

Larson is one of NASCAR's most popular drivers, and he is in the prime of his career.

To compare, when Johnson ran the Indy 500, he was two years removed from Cup Series competition. Alonso was a year away from his (initial) Formula 1 retirement, and Busch was a decade removed from his championship. Patrick was seven years removed from an IndyCar start and coming off of a disappointing NASCAR career.

Larson has won a Cup Series-high 19 races since the start of his championship-winning 2021 season, his first with Rick Hendrick's team. His 10 wins that year were the most since Johnson won 10 en route to his 2007 title.

Now one of the biggest names in motorsports is set to take on the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" -- the most attended single-day sporting event on the planet. The late Robin Miller would be proud, to say the very least.

After qualifying in an impressive fifth place, putting him in the middle of the second row for the 200-lap race in this past Sunday's Firestone Fast Six session (full starting lineup available here), Larson is still listed at +700.

He had actually become the overall favorite leading into Sunday, though he is now listed behind the Team Penske trio of Scott McLaughlin (+500), Newgarden (+550), and Will Power (+650), all of whom qualified on the front row.

Full odds can be found here. Odds refresh periodically and are subject to change.

Whether you're a huge Larson fan or you're among those who can't stand the fact that anybody actually thinks he can come into the Indy 500 and mix it up with experienced veterans, former race winners, and IndyCar champions, you cannot deny the positive effect his effort should have on the greatest race in the world and on the NTT IndyCar Series itself.

And after years of talking about doing it, now he is finally doing it.

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NBC is set to provide live coverage of the 108th running of the Indy 500 from Indianapolis Motor Speedway beginning at 11:00 a.m. ET on Sunday, May 26. The green flag is scheduled to fly shortly after 12:30 p.m. ET, weather permitting. Start a free trial of FuboTV now and don't miss any of the action!