2024 Indianapolis 500 Coverage

Kyle Larson 'Back On Track' During Indy 500 Fast Friday

Kyle Larson 'Back On Track' During Indy 500 Fast Friday

Showing improved speed, Kyle Larson has bounced back from Thursday's difficult practice on Indy 500 Fast Friday.

May 17, 2024 by Kyle McFadden
Kyle Larson 'Back On Track' During Indy 500 Fast Friday

It’s indeed a new day for Kyle Larson, who’s appeared to have righted the ship of his Indianapolis 500 hopes partway through Fast Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

A day after an engine swap slowed Thursday’s practice progression, limiting him to the fourth-fewest turned laps (29) of the day, the 31-year-old Indy 500 super rookie sits pretty on the speed charts in multiple categories as of 4:20 p.m. Friday: Fastest in overall speed at 234.271 mph, eighth-fastest of non-tow speeds, and sixth-quickest among four-lap averages.

The latter is what’s most encouraging because Indy 500 qualifying results on Saturday aren’t ordered by single fastest laps, but the average speeds across the four-lap time trial run. So, every qualifying lap matters. Larson and his Chevy-Dallara-powered No. 17 Hendrickcars.com Arrow McLaren team are certainly heeding that initiative during Fast Friday.

“We screwed up the first run there … my fault. But we got back on track,” Larson’s race strategist Brian Campe said during a midday interview with NBC. “Kyle’s doing a great job. It’s great to be back in Indianapolis. It’s great to be back at the Indy 500. We’re learning as a team every run.”

Larson’s quickest four-lap run — laps 18 through 21 — came right before he and his team took an eventual two-hour break between roughly 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. The 2021 NASCAR Cup champion posted speeds of 232.902, 232.748, 232.450 and 232.099 before heading for the garage following the 21st lap, a sign that Larson and team obtained the data and speed they’ve been searching for.

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He returned to the 2.5-mile oval around 3:45 p.m. where he then laid down the fastest overall lap

“Again, it’s just laps and going through the process,” Campe said. “I think the more that Kyle can learn, he’ll be faster. If you can make Kyle Larson better, he’ll always be faster.”

At the time of Larson’s fastest lap — his 232.902 on lap 18 — he had logged the most laps of any Indy 500 competitor. That alone is a win after Larson termed Thursday’s practice “boring and frustrating” as an engine change, lengthy caution period to clean up Marcus Ericcson’s big wreck, and brief stoppage for weather stole precious practice laps.

But now with a sense of direction, Larson and team have something to work with and seemingly the speed to build around as qualifications loom Sunday. And should Larson qualifying inside the top-12 on Saturday (all four of McLaren’s cars did so last year), he’ll take part in Sunday’s Fast 12 with a shot to grab the pole.

If outside the top-12, he’ll start May 26’s Greatest Spectacle in Racing wherever he qualifies on Saturday. Wherever that may be, the goal remains for Larson to log as many lap as possible.

“Absolutely. Get Kyle’s many laps as possible,” Campe said. “We’ll go back and work on the details, go back through the data with Kyle. … They’ll go through the shift points (and) the driving line with Tony. We’ll just really work on the rest of the details the rest of the day. We got some speed. We’re kind of right in the game there with our teammates, Rossi and O’Ward. That’s a big confidence booster for Kyle. So no we can focus on the details.”

RELATED: Engine Change Slows Kyle Larson's Indy 500 Thursday Practice

After this weekend, Larson has a pair of two-hour practices next Monday and Friday to simulate more race-like conditions, especially the navigating of traffic.

“I think the traffic that we put him in yesterday and Wednesday is the worst traffic he’ll see in the race. So he got a taste of that,” Campe said. “And then Monday and Friday we’ll have a better idea where we start. That’ll dictate where you put him in traffic so he can really dial the balance of the car in.”

Campe, for context, is an instrumental part of Larson’s team as its race strategist at the Indy 500. Larson already has a relationship with Campe because he’s Hendrick Motorsports’ technical director.

And Campe is very much familiar with IndyCar, winning the 2015 Indy 500 with Juan Pablo Montoya and 2017 IndyCar championship with Josef Newgarden as an engineer for Team Penske. As a race strategist, Campe’s essentially coaching Larson’s biggest moves from pit road.

“I think I talked with everybody at Hendrick Motorsports before we left,” Campe said. “I know they’re tuned in back at the shop and working hard for Wilkesboro, and the 600. … We’re super proud to represent everyone at Hendrick Motorsports. It’s really special. I’m blessed to be able to be do it.”