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Kyle Larson’s Memorial Weekend Double Trouble

Photo Credit; Chris Owens/IMS

 

NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson will pursue a motorsport feat many now term “The Double” by competing in two major events during the United States’ Memorial Day weekend. In addition to his regular duties driving the #5 Chevrolet Camaro for Hendrick Motorsports in the Cup series’ longest distance event, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Larson will be involved in the 108th running of the Indianapolis 500. He will be driving the #17 Arrow McLaren fielded entry for his first IndyCar Series outing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Kyle Larson is set to become the fifth driver in 30 years to complete the task.

Not only did Larson secure a spot inside the 33-car grid for the Indy 500 but made a spirited run for the front row and even the pole during Sunday qualifying at the 2.5-mile speedway. His effort would ultimately result in an impressive fifth place starting spot for the #17 car. Scheduled to run in NASCAR’s All-Star race at North Wilkesboro Speedway, the strong qualifying performance at the Indy introduced everyone to the challenge of travelling from Indiana to North Carolina one week before the planned trip on Memorial Day Sunday adventure.

Providing two forms of very different racing, the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 have co-existed on uneasy terms. First run in June of 1960, the 600-mile NASCAR race at Charlotte Motor Speedway (first known as the World 600) avoided scheduling races directly on the same date during the 1960s and early 1970s as the Indianapolis 500 routinely running in late May either before or after Indy car race. 

In 1970, LeeRoy Yarbrough and Donnie Allison became the first drivers able to run both races thanks to the races starting six days apart. Allison actually won the 1970 World 600 with the aid of Yarbrough who took over driving duties late in the gruelling 400-lap race. Donnie Allison would perform double-duty once more in 1971 driving for A.J. Foyt Enterprises at Indy and the #21 Wood Brothers Mercury at Charlotte but faced a tighter one day turnaround between races. Future attempts for drive in both races in the same year were foiled when the World 600 would be scheduled on the same date as the Indianapolis 500 starting in 1974.

From 1974 to 1992, it was practically impossible for a driver to run in both the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the 600-mile NASCAR race at Charlotte Motor Speedway ran as day races at the same time. However, the window for drivers competing in both events opened when Charlotte Motor Speedway installed lights at the track and rescheduled the Coca-Cola 600 for 1992 as an evening race. With a few hours of travel time available between the end of the Indy 500 and the start of the Coca-Cola 600, the first attempt for a driver to run both events was successfully undertaken by the late John Andretti in 1994. Andretti finished a respectable 10th place at Indy driving for A.J. Foyt Enterprises while his Cup Series effort ended with 36th place due to an engine issue. 

In 1997, Robby Gordon committed to be the second driver after John Andretti to compete in both the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in the same weekend with Felix Sabates’ SABCO. For Gordon, even as both races were affected by rain, weather worked in his favour as the 600-mile NASCAR Cup race at Charlotte was delayed but ultimately finished as the Sunday night race concluded on early Monday morning completing 333 of 400 laps. Unable to run the 1997 Indy 500 on its traditional Sunday spot, racing at the track would run on Monday afternoon. Although Robby Gordon achieved the performance of the Double, his efforts with Coors Light-sponsored SABCO Racing cars in both events ended poorly. He crashed out in the Coca-Cola 600 after completing 186 laps placing 41st while his Indy 500 was also a quick exit after running near the front for the race’s opening laps after starting 12th place. An engine fire with Gordon’s Oldsmobile-powered G-Force race car not only led to a retirement from the Indy 500 but the extensive burns the driver suffered caused him to miss the next four NASCAR Cup races.  Robby Gordon wouldn't let the frustrations of 1997 prevent him from attempting the Double again. While driving full-time for Richard Childress Racing in the Cup Series, he would run at Indy from 2002 to 2004 making it back to Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600 on every occasion.

Tony Stewart pulled off the modern Double twice competing in 1999 and 2001 becoming the first to do so twice. Stewart finished 9th at the 1999 Indy 500 before arriving in Charlotte to drive his #20 Home Depot-sponsored Joe Gibbs Racing Pontiac during his rookie campaign in the NASCAR Cup Series. Impressively, he brought his stock car across the finish line in 4th place. Wheeling a machine for Chip Ganassi Racing in the 2001 Indy 500, Stewart took 6th place in a race won by Helio Castroneves. Tony Stewart travelled to Charlotte Motor Speedway and finished 3rd in the Coca-Cola 600. In the last Double outing for the Indiana driver, he completed the full 1,100-mile collective distance in competition between the two races on that Sunday. 

15 years after Stewart's first Indy500/Coca-Cola 600, a driver for a race team co-owned by Tony Stewart enjoyed a fruitful adventure in his Double performance. Though Kurt Busch’s outing in his regular #41 NASCAR Cup Series ride for the Coca-Cola 600 ended with a 40th place result after an engine failure, he had earlier crossed the line in sixth at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and would receive the prestigious Rookie of the Year honours for the 2014 event. 

Since the beginning of this weekend, Kyle Larson’s planned 1,100-mile race day has been threatened by weather. Sunday’s forecast for Indianapolis is expected to be a massive washout with massive rain and thunderstorms that is anticipated to delay the 500-mile open wheel classic. The possibility of a rain-delayed Indy 500 has led to questions of Larson being replaced for one of the two races. Wet weather is also predicted to hit the area of Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday which might delay the start of the Coca-Cola 600.

With a level of uncertainly heading into Sunday, there will at least be an added level of intrigue to see if and how Kyle Larson will become the latest driver to complete The Double.

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