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    Thursday, June 13, 2024

    Kyle Larson eyes Indy 500-Coke 600 double as busy May begins for him at Kansas Speedway

    Kyle Larson (5) heads down the front stretch during a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, Sunday, April 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

    Kansas City, Kan. — Kyle Larson began what will become a busy month of May on a small dirt track nestled in a crook of the Missouri River, where he started outside of the top 10 in his sprint car Friday night and managed to climb to third place by the finish.

    By the end of the month, Larson hopes to have made some history.

    The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion is trying to join Tony Stewart as the only drivers ever to complete “the double,” finishing every lap of the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day. Several have tried over the years, most recently Kurt Busch in 2014, but the task has proven to be among the most grueling in all of motorsports.

    “I mean, for sure I'm excited,” Larson said Saturday, shortly before hopping into his No. 5 for Hendrick Motorsports and qualifying for the Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway. “I'm not like, overly anxious at the same time. I think I've known it's been coming for a couple of years now, and just, you've got to be ready to get out there and get going.”

    Larson also said he's not thinking about Memorial Day weekend quite yet.

    There is a lot more racing to do first.

    He was running his sprint car again Saturday night at nearby Lakeside Speedway, then will try to improve on his finish Sunday from a year ago at Kansas, where Denny Hamlin bumped him out of the way on the last lap to snatch victory.

    Larson also has NASCAR's throwback weekend coming up at Darlington, and another sprint car race at Kokomo Speedway in Indiana on May 13, the night before he steps into his Arrow McLaren ride to practice for the Indy 500.

    “It's starting to set in what's coming ahead,” Larson admitted. “You've got to do rookie orientation for the first time and you get there, and that was the first moment of like, 'Holy (expletive), I'm actually in an IndyCar right now.' But I think since then, you know, I'm kind of just more ready to finally get going.”

    Larson already has a Cup Series win from Las Vegas in March, and he has a series-leading five top-fives, including a second-place run at Dover last weekend. He has led at least one lap in eight races and his 570 laps led are 35 more than any other driver.

    That consistency has helped Hendrick Motorsports join Joe Gibbs Racing in dominating the Cup Series this season. Hendrick has five wins and Hamlin gave Gibbs its fourth last week at Dover, and it's hard to believe the two power teams won't be at the front again on Sunday; they are tied for the most wins at the track with eight apiece.

    Hamlin is certainly looking forward to another duel.

    Especially if it goes the way the spring race did at Kansas a year ago.

    “It was a fierce battle,” he recalled. “We were the best two guys. He got out to a lead there and I remember just chasing him down there toward the end, when he was getting loose. But it's so race to race. I can't go back. We have a different car, new tire coming into this race. There's not much I can put together other than how can I attack this track to get speed?”

    Charter chatter

    Hamlin, who co-owns 23XI Racing along with Michael Jordan, lamented the state of charter negotiations Saturday. Charters provide guaranteed starting spots and other financial benefits to their owners, but are due to expire after 2024. Owners want them to become permanent, so they can more easily attract long-term sponsors and investors. They also want more revenue, a bigger voice in NASCAR decisions and a share of new business opportunities, such as gambling revenue.

    “Why is this such an important thing?” Hamlin asked. “We've had 11 teams go out of business since 2016. That's not good. And certainly if we continue on the trend of a couple stakeholders doing really well and others not, that will continue."

    Back in the saddle

    Jimmie Johnson will be driving the No. 84 car for Legacy Motor Club for the second straight week as part of his abbreviated Cup Series schedule. The three-time Kansas winner finished 28th at the Daytona 500, 29th at Texas and 28th last week at Dover.

    “This year has been more challenging for us in a lot more ways that we anticipated,” Johnson admitted, “but I do think we’re getting closer to a consistent pace that we hope to have week-in and week-out.”

    Ford’s focus

    The season has so far been dominated by Chevrolet and Toyota, leaving Ford still looking for its first Cup Series win. But its cars were fast at Talladega, and Noah Gragson and Ryan Blaney finished sixth and seventh last week at Dover.

    “Right now our program, I feel — if we were an 18th-place team last year, I think we’re closer to a 10th-place team," said Gragson’s crew chief, Drew Blickensderfer. "And 10th-place teams can win races.”

    Odds and ends

    Hamlin is the 9-2 favorite, according to BetMGM Sportsbook. Larson and William Byron are next at 5-1. ... Ricky Stenhouse Jr. signed a multiyear extension this week to continue driving the No. 47 for JTG Daugherty Racing. ... Corey Heim is driving the No. 43 again in place of Erik Jones, who was cleared to return by NASCAR, but is sitting out one more week as he recovers from a crash at Talladega. Jones sustained a compression fracture in his back in the wreck.

    Ty Gibbs, left front, and Kyle Larson, right front, lead the field into Turn 1 after taking the green flag for the start of a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, Sunday, April 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Larry Papke)

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