This isn’t a typical commentary, nor is it a strong suggestion, nor wishful thinking.
This is plea to Roger Penske, Rick Hendrick and Chevrolet: do whatever is necessary to put Kyle Larson in a competitive car for the 2022 Indianapolis 500.
Larson is in the midst of one of the greatest seasons ever, having won five Cup races – including the $1 million All-Star race and Coke 600 – the Chili Bowl, the King’s Royal, the Prairie Dirt Nationals and last Saturday night’s Knoxville Nationals.
He’s atop the Cup points and has led 1,496 laps (700 more than his closest competitor), dominated Sunday’s Brickyard 400 and had another sure win until a late caution scrambled the field and he wound up third. He’s won in midgets, sprints with and without wings, late model stock cars and modifieds.
Before Sunday’s Cup race, Jeff Gordon and I were raving about Larsons’ talent. “He’s Mario Andretti,” said Gordon. “I mean, who has ever had a season like this, and it’s only half over.”
The 27-year-old Californian said Sunday he definitely wants to run Indy, but only in a good car with a chance to win – which his ride will instantly become when he steps into it. Obviously a proper testing program is necessary, along with a savvy engineer and good pit work, but they’ll be lined up to work for him.
Because of his Bowtie and Hendrick Motorsport connections, Hendrick is the obvious landing spot. And Rick Hendrick has been great about letting Larson spread his wings on the short tracks of America. That doesn’t mean it’s a slam dunk, but an Indy 500 win is the only thing missing from Mr. H’s trophy case.
Whatever Larson drives has to be a Chevy, so Team Penske is the logical choice if Hendrick declines. A few days with Rick Mears as driver coach would be perfect. Ed Carpenter Racing is also a good place for a one-off.
But this isn’t something that needs discussion or time to contemplate – it needs to happen next May. Larson entering the race will sell an automatic 10,000 additional seats, and drive the media coverage up to a level we haven’t seen for more than a decade. He’s a grassroots American hero – humble and gracious, and easy to cheer for any night of the week.
IndyCar isn’t real good at taking advantage of a gift horse, and it must jump on this opportunity to make new fans from the grassroots. If Hendrick or The Captain doesn’t want to fund another car, then IndyCar needs to pony up.
A Kyle Larson comes along once every 40 years, and after 53 years of covering open-wheel racing he makes me watch USAC, NASCAR, World of Outlaws and FLO Racing because he’s mesmerizing in traffic or charging to the front.
He’s a great kid with good parents, an adorable wife, two kids and a fan following that just keeps growing.
The first time he saw Eldora Speedway in 2011 he swept all three divisions in USAC’s biggest weekend. It usually takes a couple of years to get comfortable running the wall at Rossburg, Ohio – it took Larson two hot-lap sessions.
Tony Stewart and I were headed to Victory Lane that weekend. I was still gobsmacked by what I’d just witnessed, and said that was A.J. Foyt/Parnelli Jones-like talent and IndyCar needed to snap him up.
Obviously that didn’t turn out to be his career path, but there’s still a golden opportunity for Larson to leave his niche at 16th & Georgetown. The best racer in North America deserves to be in the world’s biggest race in his prime. So make it happen, boys.