Jeff Gordon says that Hendrick Motorsport had no hesitation in clearing Kyle Larson to compete in next year’s Indianapolis 500, despite two of the team’s other NASCAR Cup Series stars having been sidelined this year with injuries sustained during extracurricular activities.
Chase Elliott sat out six races while recovering from a broken leg sustained in a snowboarding accident, while Alex Bowman is continuing to work towards returning from a sprint car crash that left him with a fractured vertebra. Larson regularly races in sprint car events in between his Cup commitments; however, he’ll face a different level of risk when he suits up for Arrow McLaren at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway next year. But according to Hendrick vice-chairman Gordon — himself no stranger to the Speedway as a five-time Brickyard 400 winner — the benefits of granting driver freedom outside of their Cup duties outweigh any potential downsides.
“Our approach is that we want to support these guys in things that they want to take on,” Gordon (pictured above, with Larson) said. “I mean, with Kyle, we’ve had this conversation a lot. He feels like that type of racing actually helps him get prepared and be sharp on Sunday in the Cup car. We’ve actually seen the results of that.
“They have to make good, smart decisions, be in good equipment, not take too much risk when they’re involved in that, whether it’s racing or other things.
“I can tell you I did a lot of extracurricular activities, even if it wasn’t in other race cars, throughout my entire career, and see the benefits of it. We’re going to support our guys to do the same. We’re going to encourage them to really weigh out the risk versus the reward and make sure they’re in the best equipment with the best team and the best opportunity to go out there and make the experience a good one. That’s the way we look at this.”
Gordon’s own career path never led him onto the Indy 500 starting grid, and he admits that he’ll be living vicariously through Larson the flag drops next Memorial Day weekend.
“I did say to him he’s going to be able to live out a dream of mine,” said the four-time Cup Series champion. “I go back to the mid to late ’80s when I was living here in Indiana; raced all around here. Every race car driver’s dream, if you race around Indianapolis, is to get here, to compete at this facility.
“I watched guys like Rich Vogler, a few other competitors I raced with, come over here and do that. Certainly it was on my radar. But NASCAR came calling. Once that happened, I kind of shifted my focus to that. I don’t know if really the right opportunity (arose) or it ever became serious enough after that to become a reality. So to me, this is equally as exciting because, one, I sure as heck right now don’t want to drive into turn one at 238 miles, whatever they’re running, but Kyle does. Kyle is capable of it.
“Super-excited. Excited for Kyle. When he has the equipment and the resources, the people surrounding him, he has the ability to go do extraordinary things. We’ve seen him do it in other cars. I have no doubt that he’ll be able to do that in the Indy 500 next year, as well.”