Rick Hendrick, the winningest team owner in NASCAR history, generally hasn’t looked kindly on his drivers venturing into other racing series.
Perhaps he needed a talent like Kyle Larson to change his mind.
Larson and Hendrick will go where few NASCAR entities have gone, announcing Thursday they will join Arrow McLaren Racing in entering the 2024 Indianapolis 500. The car will be co-owned by Hendrick, prepared by the McLaren team and driven by Larson, who has long had the 500 on his bucket list.
Now, Hendrick says he is more than ready to enjoy the moment at what is typically considered the world’s biggest race.
“I’ll probably feel like I did when I went to Daytona the first time I had an entry there,” Hendrick said. “I looked down the garage lane and saw the Wood Brothers and Junior Johnson and all these guys, and I thought, ‘Man, I shouldn’t be here.’ But being partners with McLaren gives us a tremendous amount of comfort that we’ll have the best equipment and the best preparation. They’re the best.”
Larson also is considered one of the best in his department. He has raced in many series and has been successful in virtually every one, notching wins in such high-level events as the Knoxville Nationals and the Chili Bowl, and dominating short-track events across the country while also tallying wins in the Cup Series, where he won the championship in Hendrick Chevrolets in 2021.
It was also that year, Larson said, that discussion about driving in the Indy 500 evolved into something serious.
“I don’t think there was as much convincing that had to go into it as I thought there might be for Rick,” Larson said. “I remember us talking around Christmastime in 2021. I remember Rick called, and I said, ‘I really want to do the Indy 500 someday.’ He said, ‘OK, let’s do it then.’ I was like, OK. That was simpler than I thought it might be.”
Larson didn’t take any chances, however. He kept the talk alive.
“I didn’t want to lose any momentum,” he said. “I tried to bring it up here and there. I made sure I mentioned it to (Hendrick Vice Chairman Jeff Gordon) a lot to keep a bug in Rick’s ear.”
Larson has talked of hoping to put his name on the list of drivers who excel in numerous disciplines, including champions like A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. Five hundred miles at Indianapolis will give him a first taste of what success might mean at that level.
“It will be a tall task to go win it, but I think that’s why we’re trying to plan so far ahead,” Larson said. “Adding my name to that winners list would add to my legacy. If I could win the Indy 500 at 31 and still have a lot of racing left to run, it would take a big step toward that.”
The first big step was bringing Hendrick on board.
“The Indy 500 is such a prestige event,” Hendrick said. “I never thought I’d be there. I know it’s going to be special to walk out on the grid next year and be a part of it.”