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NASCAR Waiver or Not, Kyle Larson Was Right To Race the Indy 500

Larson is a racer, and like racers do, he took a gamble. And had it not been for a pesky weather delay, it all would've worked out just fine.
Skibinski | IMS Photo

Kyle Larson is a racer. He drives anything he can get his hands on, and he drives it well. His main gig is in the NASCAR Cup Series driving the No. 5 Chevy Camaro ZL1 for Hendrick Motorsport, though on Memorial Day Weekend, he raced with Arrow McLaren at the Indianapolis 500. Turns out, it was a move that could come back to bite Larson and cost him a shot at another championship, but I’ll argue that it was the right call no matter what NASCAR decides.

It’s become an issue as Larson was apparently never given the all-clear by NASCAR to skip the Coca-Cola 600. The plan was for Larson to drive both races, at Indy and Charlotte, historically called “The Double.” Tony Stewart did it multiple times, most successfully in 2001 when he became the first driver to finish on the lead lap of the Indy 500 and Coke 600 on the same day. Larson intended to do the same but weather delays in the Midwest meant he couldn’t make it to North Carolina in time.

Because NASCAR didn’t issue a waiver for Larson to skip the Coke 600, he’s currently ineligible for the playoffs. Even though Larson already has two Cup Series wins this season, which would otherwise qualify him automatically, a rule would have to be rewritten to allow him back into contention. If that doesn’t happen, then that means no chance at a second Cup Series title this year. How could they let this happen? “They” being Hendrick, Larson, and yes, even NASCAR.

I’m not sure if there’s anyone above NASCAR’s rules, but if there is, it’s probably Larson. He’s been the best driver on the Cup Series’ most dominant team all season, and he already has a championship to his name. NASCAR would seemingly shoot itself in the foot by playing hardball and keeping him out of the title chase, especially considering how big Larson’s fanbase is. At the same time, you can’t blame ‘em for wanting him at such a big race in the heart of NASCAR country, even with all the publicity and TV airtime they’ve enjoyed as part of Larson’s Indy crossover.

Skibinski | IMS Photo

Still, I can’t blame Larson for doing what he did. Indy is a mighty fine jewel that entices the world’s greatest racers, and it’s arguably the centerpiece of motorsport’s Triple Crown. Larson is just as susceptible to its draw as anyone, and even with this drama, it’s a net positive to see him take a crack at the big oval in an open-wheel car. Nevermind the fact that he finished P18; can you imagine what it would be like if he won?

Then you have to consider what Larson has already achieved elsewhere. His first Cup Series title was huge, obviously, and while there’s no doubt he wants another, “NASCAR champ” is already the top item on his resume. Before that, Larson finished the Rolex 24 at Daytona first overall in 2015 with Chip Ganassi Racing, meaning he’s a winner in sportscars too. Oh, and don’t forget his pair of Chili Bowl victories and countless other dirt car Ws. Other than Indy, he’s pretty much done it all.

That being said, Larson is not indifferent toward NASCAR’s decision. He wants to race for another title. He told reporters this past weekend at Gateway Motorsports Park that he’s showing up every Sunday with the ultimate goal of winning the 2024 Cup Series championship. The 31-year-old even said he wanted Indy to be pushed back to another day so he could leave in time for the race at Charlotte, but alas, that’s not how things shook out.

NASCAR says there’s no timetable for its final decision on whether or not to excuse Larson’s absence from the Coke 600. I hope they give him a pass, personally, but even if they don’t, I still support Larson’s decision. When you’re given a shot to race a competitive car at the Indy 500, you take it. Simple as that.

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