New NASCAR Cup season features several changes

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While NASCAR looks back in celebrating its 75th season, there’s plenty new for the sport heading into the 2023 campaign.

Driver moves and schedule changes and are among some of the big changes this year. Here’s a look at some of the changes this season in Cup:

Drivers

— Two-time Cup champion Kyle Busch has a different look, as he moves from Joe Gibbs Racing to Richard Childress Racing, taking the ride formerly occupied by Tyler Reddick. 

— Tyler Reddick goes from Richard Childress Racing to 23XI Racing, taking the ride formerly occupied by Kurt Busch, who was injured in a crash last summer and has not returned to competition.

Ryan Preece goes from being a test driver and backup at Stewart-Haas Racing to taking over the No. 41 car formerly run by Cole Custer, who moves to the Xfinity Series. 

— Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson returns to Cup after running the past two seasons in the IndyCar Series. He’s now a part owner of Legacy Motor Club and will run select races for the Cup team. Johnson will seek to make the Daytona 500, driving the No. 84 car.

Ty Gibbs goes from Xfinity Series champion to Cup rookie for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Noah Gragson goes from Xfinity Series title contender to Cup rookie for Legacy Motor Club (and teammate to Jimmie Johnson).

Crew chiefs

— Keith Rodden, who last was a full-time Cup crew chief in 2017 with Kasey Kahne, is back in that role for Austin Dillon at Richard Childress Racing, as Dillon seeks to make back-to-back playoff appearances. Rodden comes to RCR after working with the Motorsports Competition NASCAR strategy group at General Motors.

— Chad Johnston, who has been a crew chief for Tony Stewart, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson and Matt Kenseth, will serve as crew chief for Ryan Preece at Stewart-Haas Racing.

— Blake Harris goes from being Michael McDowell’s crew chief at Front Row Motorsports to joining Hendrick Motorsports to be Alex Bowman’s crew chief. 

— Mike Kelley, who served as Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s crew chief when Stenhouse won Xfinity titles in 2011 and ’12, returns to the crew chief role with Stenhouse this season at JTG Daugherty Racing. 

Races

— What’s old is new. The All-Star Race moves to North Wilkesboro Speedway in May, marking the first Cup event at that historic track since 1996.

— July 2 marks debut of the street course race in Chicago, marking NASCAR’s first street race for its premier series.

— The spring Atlanta race and playoff Texas race have both been reduced from 500 miles to 400 miles.

Rules

Ross Chastain’s video-game move on the last lap at Martinsville will no longer be allowed, NASCAR announced this week. 

— Stage breaks are gone at the road course events for Cup races. Stage points will be awarded but there will be no caution for the end of the stage.  

— If a wheel comes off a car while on track, it is only a two-race suspension (last year it was four races) for two crew members. The crew chief is no longer suspended for the violation. 

— Cup cars have a new rear section that is intended to absorb more energy in a crash to prevent driver injuries after Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman each missed races last year because of concussion-related symptoms.

— Elton Sawyer is the new vice president of competition for NASCAR. Think of the former driver as the new sheriff in town for the sport.

Achievements 

— With a win this season, Kyle Busch will have at least one Cup victory in 19 consecutive seasons and become the all-time series leader in that category, breaking a tie with Richard Petty.

Denny Hamlin needs two wins to reach 50 career Cup victories. That would tie him with Hall of Famers Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson for 13th on the all-time list. 

Kevin Harvick, running his final Cup season, is 10 starts away from 800 career series starts. That would make him only the 10th driver in Cup history to reach that mark.

A look at Cup driver uniforms for 2023

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It won’t be long before cars are on track for the Feb. 5 Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Before the action takes place there, check out the driver uniforms for the 2023 Cup season.

Listed below are the drivers, based on their car numbers. Driver uniform pictures are not yet available for AJ Allmendinger, Noah Gragson, Erik Jones, Ty Gibbs and Ty Dillon. The rest of the drivers with chartered teams are displayed here.

 

1 – Ross Chastain

2023 NASCAR Production Days
(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

2 – Austin Cindric

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

3 – Austin Dillon

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

4 – Kevin Harvick

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

5 – Kyle Larson

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

6 – Brad Keselowski

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

7 – Corey LaJoie

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

8 – Kyle Busch

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

9 – Chase Elliott

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

10 – Aric Almirola

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(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

11 – Denny Hamlin

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

12 – Ryan Blaney

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

14 – Chase Briscoe

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

17 – Chris Buescher

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(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

19 – Martin Truex Jr.

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

20 – Christopher Bell

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

21 – Harrison Burton

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

22 – Joey Logano

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

23 – Bubba Wallace

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(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

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(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

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(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

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(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

24 – William Byron

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

31 – Justin Haley

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

34 – Michael McDowell

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

38 – Todd Gilliland

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

41 – Ryan Preece

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(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

45 – Tyler Reddick

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

47 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

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(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

 

48 – Alex Bowman

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

51 – Cody Ware

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

78 – BJ McLeod

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

99 – Daniel Suarez

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(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

 

Matt Kenseth through the years: From young champ to Hall of Famer

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Former Cup champion Matt Kenseth will be among those inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Friday (8 p.m. ET on Peacock).

Kenseth joins Hershel McGriff and Kirk Shelmerdine in the Hall of Fame’s 13th class. The Hall will have 61 members after Friday’s ceremony.

Kenseth, 50, will be among the younger inductees to the Hall. His Cup career began in 1998 and ended in 2020. He scored 39 victories in 697 Cup starts and a championship.

Here is a look at Kenseth’s career through the years …

Beginnings

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Matt Kenseth with Bill Elliott before the fall 2001 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (Craig Jones/ALLSPORT)

Kenseth’s first Cup start came as a fill-in for Hall of Famer Bill Elliott. Kenseth’s debut took place Sept. 20, 1998, at what was then called Dover Downs International Speedway. He drove Elliott’s No. 94 McDonald’s car to a sixth-place finish. Elliott missed the race to attend his father’s funeral.

“It’s a sad deal for Bill and his family, but I’m real flattered they picked me to drive this car because there are a lot of good drivers here,” Kenseth said after qualifying Elliott’s car 16th.

 

Friendship 

Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr
Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Daytona in July 2003. (Photo By Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images)

The first time Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. raced against each other in NASCAR was April 19, 1997, at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. Kenseth finished 11th. Earnhardt was 39th.

They both ran full-time in what was then the Busch Series in 1998. Earnhardt won the series title that year. Kenseth was second. Earnhardt repeated as champion in 1999. Kenseth placed third that year.

They both moved to Cup in 2000. Earnhardt drove for his father’s team, Dale Earnhardt Inc. Kenseth drove for Roush Racing. Kenseth won Rookie of the Year honors.

 

Champion

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Matt Kenseth celebrates the Winston Cup series title at North Carolina Speedway on Nov. 9, 2003. (Photo by A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Kenseth’s smooth driving style and consistency, a trait many compared to Hall of Famer David Pearson, led to the 2003 Cup title. Although Kenseth won only once, he had 25 top-10 finishes in 36 races and was so far ahead of the field that he clinched the title with one race to go.

This was the last year the champion was determined by a season-long points total. The Chase would debut in 2004 and morph into the playoff system used today.

 

Teammates 

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Teammates Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle during NASCAR Nextel Cup Series testing Jan. 31, 2006, at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

Kenseth drove five Cup races for car owner Jack Roush in 1999 before moving to Cup full-time for the team owner in 2000. Kenseth drove for Roush from 2000-12.

His teammates at Roush included Mark Martin, Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch, among others. Kenseth scored 24 wins with the organization.

 

Daytona 500 champion 

2012 Daytona 500
Matt Kenseth celebrates his second Daytona 500 win in 2012. (Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Kenseth’s career includes two Daytona 500 victories. He won the 2009 rain-shortened race and won the 2012 race, leading the final 38 laps in that event.

Kenseth won the 2009 Daytona 500 after starting 39th. It marked the first time Ford had won the event since 2000.

Kenseth’s 2012 victory came in a race that was postponed a day and run under the lights at Daytona International Speedway. The race was delayed after a parts failure caused Juan Pablo Montoya to lose control of his car and hit a jet dryer under caution, sparking a fire on the track. The race didn’t end until after midnight, finishing early Tuesday.

 

New teammates 

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Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, drivers for Joe Gibbs Racing, speak to the media during the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour on Jan. 24, 2013. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Kenseth moved to Joe Gibbs Racing before the 2013 season. His debut season proved memorable. He won a career-high seven races, including the night race at Bristol.

Kenseth finished second in the season standings. Jimmie Johnson beat Kenseth by 19 points for the championship. Kenseth would go on to win 15 Cup races at JGR.

 

One last Cup victory

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Matt Kenseth celebrates his win at Phoenix International Raceway on Nov. 12, 2017 (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Kenseth earned his 39th and final Cup win in the 2017 playoff race at Phoenix Raceway, taking the lead with 10 laps to go.

“I don’t know what to say but thank the Lord,” Kenseth told NBC’s Rutledge Wood after climbing out of his car on the frontstretch. “Just got one race left. Everyone dreams about going out a winner. So, we won today, no one is going to take that away from us.

Kenseth returned to Cup in 2018, running 15 races in the No. 6 car for Roush Fenway Racing to help the team diagnose the struggles with that car. Kenseth sat out the 2019 season but was called back to duty in 2020, replacing Kyle Larson after he was fired at Chip Ganassi Racing. Kenseth ran the final 32 races of that season.

 

Friday 5: Kyle Busch, Tyler Reddick get early start with new teams

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Kyle Busch and Tyler Reddick — among the key storylines this season — got their first days on track with their new teams this week. 

Busch, Reddick and Austin Cindric participated in a tire test Monday and Tuesday at Circuit of the Americas. The session marked Busch’s first official laps with his Richard Childress Racing team. It also was Reddick’s first laps with his 23XI Racing team.

Busch, a two-time Cup champion, joins RCR after having spent the past 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing. Lack of sponsorship led to his move. 

He takes over the No. 8 Chevrolet that Reddick drove last year. Reddick had signed a contract to join 23XI Racing in 2024 but was allowed to leave a year early with Busch taking his spot at RCR.

Busch heads into this season having won at least one Cup race in each of the past 18 seasons, tying him with Richard Petty for the all-time Cup record.

Busch, who estimated he ran 200 laps during the two days at the 3.41-mile road course in Austin, Texas, was pleased with the session.

“Had a lot of fun,” he told NBC Sports. “Was able to work with the guys and really (have) good communication, give good feedback and have that opportunity to have dialogue of ‘Let’s do this. Let’s do this. Let’s try this. What do you think about this?’ 

“(Was) able to talk about the car in ways I’m used to and have them hear me describe things in certain ways, so they can get a better understanding where, as you go on, you can say less words and they get what you’re saying.”

Reddick said the session was helpful to get settled in the No. 45 Toyota.

The session also proved valuable for Toyota, which seeks to improve its performance on road courses. Reddick won at Road America and the Indianapolis road course last year and could provide key feedback for Toyota.

The manufacturer struggled in the first five road courses last season — twice failing to have a driver finish in the top 12. In the season’s final road course event, Toyota won the Charlotte Roval playoff race with Christopher Bell. 

Reddick told NBC Sports that a goal at the session was to “try and close the gap Toyota feels like they’ve had on the Chevys and some of the other competition last year on the road courses. I think we made some gains, but certainly, we’re going to work hard on that.”

2. More testing in January

A key organizational test takes place Tuesday and Wednesday at Phoenix Raceway.

Cars scheduled to test are those of Ross Chastain, Brad Keselowski, Christopher Bell, Joey Logano, Erik Jones and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 

Elton Sawyer, recently promoted to senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said Thursday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that the sanctioning body will be looking at several things, including changes that could help the racing at short tracks.

While the racing at intermediate tracks was viewed favorably last year, drivers were critical of the racing on short tracks and how difficult it was to pass. 

Sawyer said the sanctioning body will look at some changes to the underbody of the car.

Scott Graves, crew chief for Chris Buescher at RFK Racing, told NBC Sports that NASCAR will test some changes to the car’s underbody. Those changes came about from the Garage 56 effort. 

That’s the specially modified Camaro that will run at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, marking NASCAR’s return to that event for the first time in nearly 50 years. Hendrick Motorsports is preparing the car in a joint effort with Chevrolet, Goodyear and NASCAR.

“Some of the things they’re learning (have) started to trickle on to our side,” Graves said of the Garage 56 car. “They’ve done some things on the underbody. 

“As NASCAR is looking to make short tracks in particular a little bit better, we’re trying to be less dependent on the outer body with aero and get more of it with the underbody — with the theory that it’s going to be less affected by traffic.”

A look at the underbody of a 2022 NASCAR Cup car. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Graves said that the plan is for the rear spoiler to be smaller at the Phoenix test with the underbody of the car generating more of the car’s downforce. NASCAR also is looking to better channel the air underneath the car with the diffuser. 

Graves explained how having more of a car’s downforce generated underneath it could impact the race:

“When you look at the lap times, the guys that are up front have a huge advantage, but when they get to the back of the pack, they run the same speed.

“That’s what everybody in the pack is doing the whole race, running the same speed and having a hard time getting around each other. Hopefully, this will help with some of that, where it’s not so dependent on the outer body. You get into turbulent air, dirty air (in traffic) the (aero on the) outer body really goes away. The theory is that the underbody is still going to have that air underneath the car, so it will keep it a little bit better.”

3. Two Kyles running the double?

Kyle Larson will attempt to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day in 2024, driving at Indianapolis for Arrow McLaren. 

Could he be joined by Kyle Busch? Busch has expressed an interest in also doing the double — something his brother Kurt did in 2014. 

“I think that’s great that Kyle (Larson) has been able to kind of button that up early and get that done for himself to run the Indy 500 in 2024,” Busch told NBC Sports. 

“I wasn’t so fortunate (in the past). We had a couple of deals kind of right there, right to the sign phase almost I guess you would say. It just didn’t really materialize. Teams got other deals that were more important to them that kind of didn’t want to give me the chance, or they didn’t want to go from three cars to four cars, whatever it might have been.

“A lot of discussions happened behind the scenes, but nothing materialized. I would say that our industry, both NASCAR and IndyCar is just short on people, having the right amount of people and good people to go and do these ventures. Yeah, you could go do it and go run circles and make laps, but is it going to be a winning effort was the question. That’s just kind of why it never materialized.”

Asked if he felt the door was closed to him to running the Indy 500, Busch said: “Yeah, I would say 2023, the door’s closed. I would say 2024, with Kyle (Larson’s) announcement, the door closed because that’s probably about the only team that could do it. Given the nature of who he’s racing with, but just with other teams trying to stretch too thin and not have enough people. Again it comes down to the people part. So, you just never know. See what happens.”

4. Looking into the future

As NASCAR celebrates its 75th anniversary season, it’s a chance to look back at many of the memorable moments on and off the track.

One of the more recent memorable events was Ross Chastain’s video game move on the final lap of last fall’s Martinsville playoff race. Chastain drove his car against the wall and sped by five cars to gain enough spots to advance to the championship race. 

When NASCAR celebrates its 100th season and others in the future, Chastain’s move is likely to be among those memorable moments.

“I’m proud that I’ve been able to make a wave that will continue beyond just 2022 or just beyond me,” Chastain told NBC Sports. “There will probably be people that will learn about me because of that. I’m good with that. I’m proud of that.

“I don’t think it will ever happen again. I don’t think it will ever pay the reward that that paid off for us. I hope I’m around in 35 years to answer someone’s question about it, and I probably still won’t have a good answer on why it worked, or why I did it.”

5. A celebration

NASCAR takes time tonight to honor its past and induct three people into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Former Cup champion Matt Kenseth, Hershel McGriff and former champion crew chief Kirk Shelmerdine will be inducted as the 13th class in the Hall of Fame. NASCAR executive Mike Helton will be the recipient of the Landmark Award for outstanding contributions. Photographer T. Taylor Warren will be honored with the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR media excellence.

The ceremony airs at 8 p.m. ET on Peacock.

Kyle Larson, Rick Hendrick and the road to the Indianapolis 500

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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.

MORE: What’s ahead for Kyle Larson in the Indy 500?

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.”

MORE: Dr. Diandra: Three reasons Kyle Busch will thrive in 2023

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.”