NASCAR’s Kyle Larson Qualifies Fifth for Indy 500, with McLaughlin on the Pole

IMS/Doug Mathews

Further cementing the contention that he is America’s most versatile race car driver, Kyle Larson turned in the fastest qualifying lap by a rookie in Indianapolis 500 history Saturday with a pass of 233.453 mph. He formally qualified fifth of 34 drivers on Sunday with the second-fastest four-lap average at 232.846 mph, just shy of Tony Stewart’s record rookie run of 233.100 in 1996.

After qualifying, Larson jumped on a private jet and flew to North Wilkesboro Speedway in North Carolina, where he ran as high as third before finishing fourth in Sunday night’s NASCAR All-Star race. Larson, the 2021 NASCAR Cup series champion, is currently leading the series in points.

2024 Indy 500 Qualifying Action Larsen
IMS/Karl Zemlin

Larson will be the fifth driver to attempt “the double”—racing in the Indianapolis 500 and the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 about 430 miles away at Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina on the same day. The other drivers who’ve done the double are John Andretti, Robby Gordon, Kurt Busch, and Stewart, who is the only one to complete all 1100 miles of racing.

At Indy, Larson will be driving a Chevrolet-powered Dallara jointly entered by his NASCAR team owner, Hendrick Motorsports, and Arrow McLaren. Larson’s resume already includes wins in a dirt-track midget at the Chili Bowl, in a sports car at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, and he won the Knoxville Nationals twice in a sprint car. As his schedule permits he continues to race 800-horsepower dirt sprint cars in the World of Outlaws and the High Limit series, which he co-owns with brother-in-law Brad Sweet.

The pole winner for the Indianapolis 500 is Scott McLaughlin, who averaged 234.220 mph for his four qualifying laps, a new track record. It is the first Indy pole for McLaughlin, whose previous best start was 14th. “Indy hasn’t been kind to me,” McLaughlin said, “and a lot of it was my doing. I need to work on things. This is the first step.”

2024 Indy 500 Qualifying Action Scott Mclaughlin
IMS/Doug Mathews

The entire three-car front row is Team Penske, with Will Power starting second and defending race champion Josef Newgarden starting third. Team owner Roger Penske also owns the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the sanctioning body, IndyCar. The three front-row cars are powered by Chevrolet. Starting fourth is former winner Alexander Rossi, an Arrow McLaren Chevrolet teammate to fifth-place starter Larson.

The Sunday before the race has long been called “Bump Day,” because there are typically more entries for the 33-car field than can be accommodated. This year, there were only 34 entries, so one team had to go home. That was decided late Sunday, between British racer Katherine Legge, former winner Marcus Ericsson, 19-year-old rookie Nolan Siegel, and veteran Graham Rahal, who was the only driver bumped in 2023.

This year, it’s Siegel who will be watching from the sidelines. His Dale Coyne Racing car failed in a last-minute qualifying attempt, when Siegel crashed into the Turn 2 wall. He was uninjured. “I’m fine but I don’t really care if I’m fine at this point,” he said. “That’s somewhat irrelevant.”

Rahal ended up with the final spot. He knows how Siegel felt. “I’ve been there—last year, it still stings,” Rahal said. “It’s not much better being 33rd, I can tell you that. At least we’re in the field, and we’re going to go racing.”

Both engine manufacturers—Chevrolet and Honda—faced problems in qualifying. With Chevrolet, the problem was plenum fires. With Honda, it was simply trying to make a little more speed. The top eight qualifiers were Chevrolet-powered, and the four cars that had to run on Sunday in last-chance qualifying were all Hondas.

Chevy’s plenum-fire issue shouldn’t be a problem for the race. The plenum is a carbon-fiber box atop the engine. It’s fed by fuel and pressurized air from the twin turbochargers. Under pressure, the fuel/air mix is crammed into the injectors. If an engine valve stays open for a millisecond longer than it should, a spark can climb back up into the plenum and ignite the mixture before it reaches the injectors. On at least six Chevrolet-powered cars, a plenum fire occurred on Saturday. An article at has a comprehensive explanation.

Really, it isn’t as serious as it sounds—the engine loses power very briefly, then picks back up where it left off. But it is a big deal during qualifying, where it is more likely to occur due to the high level of turbocharger boost being used. At Indy, the plenum fires mostly happened when the driver was shifting gears at near 12,000 rpm. With the milder engine tuning used for the race itself, it isn’t likely to happen, although it has: In last year’s season opener in St. Petersburg, Pato O’Ward was leading when his car suffered a plenum fire with three laps to go. The momentary loss of power was enough to let Ericsson get by and take the win.

2024 Indy 500 Qualifying Action flag
IMS/Karl Zemlin

At Indianapolis, it was important enough for Chevrolet to address the issue in a press conference late Saturday, where GM motorsports head Jim Campbell said he would have engineers around the world work around the clock to investigate the plenum fires.

As for Honda, there was no report of plenum fires, but for a company that qualified on the pole for the last four years straight, Indy qualifying was a bitter bill. The fastest Honda, driven by Felix Rosenqvist, had a four-lap average of 232.305 mph. Pole winner McLaughlin’s Chevrolet ran, as mentioned, 234.220 mph, nearly 2 mph quicker than Rosenqvist. Honda will need to find a bit more power before next Sunday.

Speaking of which: The 108th running of the Indianapolis 500 takes place May 26, with coverage beginning at 11 a.m. on NBC. Here’s a link to the starting lineup.


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    I’m a Penske fan – have been for a very long time – so I’m happy. But I tuned into this article expecting to see the flood of folks accusing the team of somehow enabling push-to-pass for the entire qualifying sessions! 😒

    How coincidental that Penske owns the Indy Car series, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and all three “fastest” race cars and was penalized already this season. Me spells a rat!

    McLaughin came from Australian V8 Supercars, if we’re looking for ‘parody’ ,as you now frequently hear them say with cars, among drivers

    (ps) Dub – Penske f**king cheats duuude! Happy now? I’m not the biggest fan of, but was pulling for Ferrucci to get it for AJ and there is an alliance between the two now. Well, qualifying at Indy is one thing the race is altogether something else. Back home again in Indiana.

    Penske does push things and I have always admired that since the Donohue days but as owner of the speedway and the series he needs to get his people to stop pushing things. If others do it they should get the same treatment. This thing at St Pete should have not gone on as long as it did and it could have done even more damage.

    Enough of that. Kyle is someone to really watch as he may be one of the greatest drivers of all time. He has the skill and speed in as many or more cars than Mario, AJ and Tony. Tony already says he is better than he ever was.

    I doubt it will happen but I would love to see Kyle in the new Cadillac F1 car when it finally hits the track.

    I just hope the race is even and with more than the Penske cars up front. The better the race the better people will come back to Indy racing. Their marketing has been horrible outside the cheating they get little coverage. Many did not know there was a St Pete race till they cheating came up.

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