July 19, 2024

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Rainy Indy 500 predictions could create a dilemma for Kyle Larson: stay or go to NASCAR?

Rainy Indy 500 predictions could create a dilemma for Kyle Larson: stay or go to NASCAR?

INDIANAPOLIS — Kyle Larson doesn’t worry about many things. He thought topping 240 mph for the first time last week was easy, and he wasn’t nervous about qualifying for his first Indianapolis 500.

But the Indy 500 weather forecast? This left him shocked, at least by Larson’s usually unflinching standards.

“It’s stressful because the weather is always unpredictable, but you don’t really know until it happens,” Larson said Thursday. “You can have backup plans for a backup plan, but you can’t do anything or react until the moment comes.”

Larson is concerned about the rain because, unlike the other 32 drivers in the Indy 500 field, the 31-year-old has other places to be on Sunday. His day job, the NASCAR Cup Series, has the Coca-Cola 600 Marathon near Charlotte, North Carolina, later Sunday night and marks the second half of the “double.”

Larson’s deadline for departure from Indy is 4:15 PM ET. according to Post timestamped on Xlast year’s Indy 500 ended at 4:14 p.m. ET.

But if Larson is late for the NASCAR race — or misses it altogether — he will need a waiver from NASCAR to remain eligible for the playoffs this fall (and as the current points leader, Larson is one of the favorites to win the title).

According to Rule 12.3.2.1.A of the NASCAR rulebook: “Unless otherwise permitted by NASCAR, driver(s) and team owner(s) must start all championship events for the current season to be eligible for the playoffs.”

“Authorized by NASCAR” is the key there. It’s possible that NASCAR will give Larson a pass for missing the race, but that would create a new precedent. Previously, waivers were often granted for injuries, but were never granted because the driver was racing elsewhere.

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Although this would be an exceptional circumstance with some nuance, there will certainly be some level of outcry on social media with accusations of NASCAR favoritism toward both Larson and his powerful NASCAR team, Hendrick Motorsports.

But previous drivers who achieved the double did not have to worry about losing their championship eligibility. In 2014, when Kurt Busch was the last to achieve the double, drivers only had to “try to qualify” for each NASCAR race. Busch, for example, qualified his Cup Series car on the Thursday before the races. Although he certainly wanted to be back in Charlotte in time for Sunday, he no longer has to worry about missing the playoffs if he doesn’t.

Then NASCAR changed the rule before the 2015 season to stipulate that drivers must actually start each race, not just try to qualify. That’s part of the reason Larsson is in a tough spot right now.

If it rains in Indianapolis, Larson’s best case is complete collapse. Then he won’t be doing the double on the same day, but at least he’ll still be able to take part in both races.

“If it rains, I hope it rains all day,” Larson said. “That way it can be pushed to Monday. We can join (NASCAR) on Sunday night and then come here (to Indianapolis) on Monday.”

While the National Weather Service forecast said Friday morning that the exact timing was still too far off to predict, “extremely unstable weather” and an oncoming spring storm system had combined to “show a distinct possibility for a severe weather outbreak Sunday night and Sunday.”

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There is currently an 80 percent chance of rain at the Indy 500.

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The biggest problem Larsson faces concerns scenarios that don’t involve a Monday postponement. Indy 500 officials said they would make every effort to hold the race on Sunday, mainly because a crowd of more than 330,000 people was expected that day. In the previous 107 races, the Indy 500 has been fully postponed only three times (1915, 1986 and 1997) and partially postponed – started, stopped and continued on another day – twice (1967 and 1973).

If the green flag is late and he starts late, what will Larsson do? It seems unlikely that he will enter the pits and exit the car in the middle of the world’s biggest race. But no one has categorically ruled this out.

Likewise, what would Larson do if he started the race, but then stopped due to a rain delay? Will he wait in Indianapolis, hoping to continue racing the 500 but knowing he’ll miss out on NASCAR altogether? It’s a difficult answer and has ramifications on multiple levels.

A major factor in Larson’s favor is that NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick is also the sponsor of his No. 17 Arrow McLaren IndyCar. Hendrick, who makes his living as a car dealer, has HendrickCars.com on Larson’s two cars and has invested untold amounts of money in Larson’s Indy 500 efforts.

So, if Larsson wants to stay in Indy, he will likely have Hendrick’s blessing to do so.

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“I don’t know anything,” Larson said. “I don’t have any answers for you guys, as far as decisions and all that. I don’t think anyone really does at this point.

“Maybe it should be about game-time decisions and playing by ear.”

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(Top photo by Kyle Larson: Grace Hollers/USA Today)