NASCAR star Kyle Larson is embracing his Indianapolis 500 debut, right down to milking a cow

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Kyle Larson has been adamant about soaking up the entire Indianapolis 500 experience as the NASCAR superstar prepares to make his debut in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on Memorial Day weekend.

He didn't expect to find himself under an udder on Tuesday.

One of the most accomplished drivers of any generation is still just an Indy 500 rookie. And one of the somewhat new traditions at a place steeped in them is that rookies, after completing their harrowing qualifying runs and a penultimate practice on Monday, return to otherwise quiet Indianapolis Motor Speedway the next morning for a crack at milking a cow.

“What? Is that a thing?” Larson asked when first informed of the custom.

Told that it was, indeed, a thing, the driver of the No. 17 Arrow McLaren asked: “Do we get to glove up?”

So on a hot, sunny Tuesday at the speedway, there was Larson — just as he had promised — standing alongside a black-and-white Holstein that was quietly munching away. Larson bent at the waist, reached with his right hand — ungloved, for the record — and gave one of the udders a couple of tentative tugs.

“I grew up in a city," explained Larson, who was born in suburban Sacramento, California. “I've never really been around a cow.”

Just about everything Larson does with a wheel in his hands seems natural to him, but a cow's udder? Pretty amateurish. Still, Larson got a couple of streams of milk to squirt, and really, that was the point.

On Sunday, he hopes to douse himself in the stuff.

That's another Indianapolis 500 tradition, of course, begun when parched 1936 winner Louis Meyer climbed from his car and asked for a glass of buttermilk. These days, drivers are asked beforehand what version of milk they prefer — Larson picked whole, should he win — and upon reaching victory lane, generally take a quick swig before pouring it over their heads.

Yet so much is up in the air as Larson prepares for race day, including what would happen if he wins.

He qualified fifth in a joint effort between Arrow McLaren and Hendrick Motorsports, his NASCAR team, and plans to run the entire race before flying to Charlotte, North Carolina, and driving in the Cup Series race that night. Only five drivers have ever attempted “The Double,” as it has become known, and Tony Stewart in 2021 remains the only one to finish all 1,100 miles.

The schedule is tight: Larson will climb from his Indy car into an SUV, which will deposit him at a helicopter waiting at the speedway. That will whisk him to a nearby airport, where a jet will take him to Charlotte. After landing, another helicopter will take him to the track, where he will climb into his Cup Series car for the start of the race.

Any time spent celebrating an Indy 500 triumph would put Larson in the most welcome of predicaments.

“The pressure of being in the race and starting in a great starting spot, and knowing we have the Coca-Cola 600 to run — it's going to be pressure all day,” NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick said. “How does the race go? Is it going to rain? What time do we have to leave to get back to Charlotte? It's going to be a tremendous amount of pressure."

Ah, yes, the rain. That's also in the forecast Sunday, a 50% chance for scattered showers early with more popping up in the afternoon. If that happens, Hendrick said, some tough decisions will need to be made.

“We talked about it many times. We know we need to be at Charlotte for points. We're just going to let it play out,” he said, before adding: “It would be very hard (to pull the plug). It would be very tough. It would be very disappointing, because of all the effort everyone has put in from Arrow McLaren. He's in such a good position. It would be extremely hard.”

Speaking of positions, Larson has found himself in plenty of new ones in the run-up to the Indy 500. He is well-versed in driving everything from dirt late models and sprint cars to stock cars, but piloting an Indy car at some 240 mph has been new.

So was leaning under a cow on a sun-splashed day at the speedway.

“It was cool,” Larson said with a smile. “It was honestly a cool experience.”

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AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing

05/21/2024 18:02 -0400

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