The most underrated and overlooked Indy 500 debut of all-time

Carlos Munoz remains this generation's best ever driver at the Indy 500 never to win the race, and it started with a run nobody saw coming.
Indy 500, IndyCar
Indy 500, IndyCar / Robert Laberge/GettyImages

The biggest storyline leading up to this year's running of the Indy 500 needs little to no introduction.

NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson is set to become the first driver in a decade -- and just the fifth driver ever -- to attempt the Memorial Day Double, running the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and then going on to fulfill the duties of his full-time role at Charlotte Motor Speedway in NASCAR's crown jewel Coca-Cola 600 event.

Larson is competing for Arrow McLaren at Indy with support from his Cup Series team, Hendrick Motorsports, making his No. 17 Chevrolet officially a McLaren-Hendrick entry -- and his Memorial Day Double effort the "Hendrick 1,100". Regardless of how this year pans out, it is believed that he plans to attempt the feat again in 2025 as well.

Aside from winning, Larson is simply attempting to do two things: complete all 1,100 miles, something only Tony Stewart has ever done, and start a Memorial Day Double attempt with zero IndyCar experience, something only Kurt Busch has done.

Busch finished in a respectable sixth place in 2014 with Andretti Autosport in what was his first (and only) IndyCar start.

Naturally, the excitement surrounding Larson's -- and Busch's -- Memorial Day Double attempts made them the major headliners of the month of May, even though they had never before competed in an IndyCar race.

While he didn't do the Double, you could say the same thing about two-time Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso in 2017, who led 27 laps in his IndyCar debut before an engine failure knocked him out of the Indy 500.

But no Indy 500 effort in a driver's IndyCar debut flies under the radar more so than that of Carlos Munoz in 2013.

Most underrated IndyCar debut in Indy 500 history?

In 2013, a 21-year-old Indy Lights driver by the name of Carlos Munoz made his IndyCar debut in the Indy 500, and he qualified on the middle of the front row in second place.

There was somewhat of a paddock-wide fear that the aggressive driving style -- and unconventional racing line -- of the young and inexperienced Munoz would result in an early incident and that he had little to no chance of actually finishing the entire 200-lap race around the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) Speedway, Indiana.

All he did was lead 12 laps and finish in second place behind Indy 500 legend Tony Kanaan under caution. Under the modern-day rules of seemingly unlimited red flags, who knows what might have happened to conclude a race that had already doubled the previous all-time lead change record with 68?

Just two days before his impressive IndyCar debut, he finished in fourth place in a historic four-wide finish in the lower-division Indy Lights race, the Freedom 100, at the track.

Munoz would go on to become -- or really continue to be -- one of the best drivers at the speedway over the next half decade, finishing outside of the top 10 on just one occasion and racking up an additional runner-up finish in a race won by Alexander Rossi on fuel mileage.

Not knowing whether or not he had won the race at the time, he was left in tears afterward.

Munoz's words after that race -- that he felt it was clear he "will win this race one day" -- never ended up panning out, as he would only go on to make two more starts.

It's still baffling that nobody has given Munoz who is still just 32 years old, a chance to change that after his 21st to seventh place run in 2018, when Andretti Autosport really didn't have contending cars throughout the month of May and he still managed to work his way forward in what was the first Indy 500 with the redesigned IR18 chassis configuration.

Give him an even remotely competitive car, and he's going to the front. The fact that he managed to lead laps in 2015 and finish in the top 10 during an era of major struggle for A.J. Foyt Enterprises in 2017 prove it.

While names such as Michael Andretti, Tony Bettenhausen, and Ted Horn are often among those which come up in the debate regarding the best ever driver not to win the Indy 500, how can anyone deny that Munoz is, at the very least, this generation's best Indy 500 driver specifically never to win?

With no IndyCar experience, he was able to mix it up with the likes of Kanaan, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Ed Carpenter, Helio Castroneves, and Marco Andretti during an Indy 500 that was historic for its passing numbers at the front of the field.

And he did it on a day when he was largely written off even before driver introductions, just a week after he had earned the right to be one of the three drivers on the 11th and final row introduced to the crowd of 300,000+ fans.

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This year's Indy 500 is set to be broadcast live on NBC from Indianapolis Motor Speedway beginning at 11:00 a.m. ET on Sunday, May 26, Larson is set to start in fifth place, and a full starting lineup can be found here. Begin a free trial of FuboTV today and don't miss it!