As weather plagued the Indy 500 and Coke 600, Kyle Larson learned how tricky double duty can be

Kyle Larson learned just how tough the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 double can be on Sunday thanks to factors wholly out of his control.

Larson didn’t get a chance to get into his Cup Series car Sunday night after he traveled in from the rain-delayed Indianapolis 500. Larson arrived at Charlotte Motor Speedway just as the 600 was halted because of an incoming thunderstorm. After NASCAR spent two hours drying the track following the conclusion of the rain, it threw in the towel on its track-drying efforts and called the race after 249 laps.

Larson, as you can imagine, was pretty dejected.

The rain that hit Charlotte was from the same system that delayed the Indianapolis 500. The 500 was originally set to start at 12:45 p.m. ET but was pushed back four hours because of a line of storms that swept through the Indianapolis area right around the original start time.

On Monday, Larson said in a social media post that Sunday ended up being one of the most disappointing days of his life.

As Sunday approached, the possibility of rain affecting Larson’s double effort got more and more real. And it presented a conundrum for Hendrick Motorsports thanks to the rules in both IndyCar and NASCAR.

If Larson was to back out of the Indy 500 for whatever reason, IndyCar rules stipulated that he could be replaced by Nolan Siegel, the driver who failed to qualify for the race. There was a thought that Larson’s McLaren team could have put former Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan in Larson’s car, but Kanaan never completed a pre-race refresher course on track.

Without a realistic Indy 500 replacement scenario and a desire to compete in the 500, NASCAR seems likely to make the somewhat curious decision to give Larson a playoff waiver and allow him to miss the start of the 600 without any postseason implications. While no official waiver announcement has been made, it seems unlikely that Larson would skip the 600 and forfeit his playoff eligibility.

NASCAR rules state that a driver must start all 36 points races to be eligible for the playoffs. However, the sanctioning body makes exceptions to the rule quite frequently. In 2015, NASCAR suspended Kurt Busch after domestic abuse allegations were made against him by an ex-girlfriend. After those allegations didn’t result in criminal charges, Busch was given a playoff waiver upon his reinstatement. That same season, his brother Kyle won the Cup Series title after missing the first 10 races of the year after injuries suffered in an Xfinity Series crash at Daytona.

Other drivers have received waivers for injuries and extenuating circumstances over the past decade, but Larson would become the first driver to get a waiver for effectively missing a race by choice.

Kyle Larson drives during the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Sunday, May 26, 2024, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Kyle Larson attempted to become the fifth driver to start the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Even if you disagree with Larson’s waiver, you can understand why NASCAR would award it. Larson was attempting to be just the fifth driver to compete in both races in the same day. Tony Stewart did the double in both 1999 and 2001, and is the only driver to finish in the top 10 in both races on the same day.

Larson’s potential feat was the biggest mainstream racing storyline of May, especially after he qualified fifth at Indianapolis. His performance in practice and qualifying showed why he’s the most versatile racer in the United States and showed there was a chance he could be a contender for the win.

Once Sunday’s race got underway, Larson got a quick education in IndyCar restarts. He got caught napping on an early restart and fell outside the top 10 as he got gobbled up by IndyCar regulars much more familiar with restart protocols.

He worked his way back up into the top 10, however, and looked poised for a solid run before a pit road speeding penalty ruined his day. Larson locked up his front tires while slowing to get to pit road speed, but because he didn't slow down enough he was forced to do a drive-through on pit road under green. He ended up finishing 18th.

When Larson climbed from his car in Indianapolis, the 600 was already underway with substitute driver Justin Allgaier in Larson’s seat. Allgaier was 13th when the red flag flew at Charlotte, though Larson would have likely restarted 35th on the tail end of the lead lap if the race had resumed.

By not starting the race in Charlotte, Larson didn't earn any points from the NASCAR event. But that really doesn't matter. He's still the regular-season points leader despite the missed start and is guaranteed a spot in the playoffs thanks to his early-season win in Las Vegas.

That win gave Larson and Hendrick Motorsports the ability to make the decision they did to focus on the 500. And the experience Larson and Hendrick got on Sunday will serve them well in 2025. Larson's deal to run the Indy 500 for McLaren is a two-year agreement. Barring any changes, he's set to attempt the feat again in 2025. And he'll spend the next year hoping thunderstorms don't get in the way again.