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Larson soaking up lessons from a busy – and fast – day at IMS

Kyle Larson’s head was swimming with all of the new things he learned while running in the draft and running through a variety of chassis setup changes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Wednesday.

Strapped into the No. 17 Arrow McLaren-Hendrick Motorsports Chevy in preparation for his Indy 500 debut in May, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion shot to second on the speed chart with a best lap of 226.384mph with the aid of an aerodynamic tow.

The only driver he trailed on the rain-shortened day was the defending race winner and two-time IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden, who rates among the greatest oval drivers of his generation. For Larson’s fans, the Indy Open Test was confirmation of what’s possible with his one-off attempt to win the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR event on the same May 26 day.

“Getting in some traffic and feeling the dirty air – the turbulent air – and all that; the first time I got in traffic I think my tires still had good grip so I was surprised it didn’t feel that different in traffic,” Larson said on the Peacock broadcast.

“I was already building tire understeer and Newgarden got by me and I really was super-tight (understeering) behind him, so just trying to learn all that, process all that and just knowing what I can do in the car to try to help cope with that… just trying to figure out any bit of racecraft today, which I know is tough. Trying to get an idea on things and just get notes in my head and get comfortable.”

Pole position for the last Brickyard 400 NASCAR race on the 2.5-mile IMS oval was set at 185mph in 2019, which is a far cry from where Larson played on Wednesday. Nonetheless, he eventually adapted to the speed and made an interesting comment on the IndyCar open-wheeler versus his Chevrolet stock car.

“Well, right out of the gate I’m like, ‘Man, I made a mistake here, going way too fast…’” he said of the 40-plus mph increase. “lt’s weird. My brain was not ready to go that fast in the morning and so I was like, ‘This is crazy. This is wild.’ But then your brain kind of adapts and slows things down. I got closer to people; the judgment of speed off in the distance, they’re far away, they look really fast, but as you get closer, you’re going the same speed as them so it didn’t feel like way fast once I got around people. The overall feel of the car is obviously different, but I do feel like our Next Gen NASCAR is a lot closer to what an IndyCar feels like, so it’s not too different, honestly.”

Larson reckons the change in speeds and seeing how an IndyCar team operates has been beneficial to his overall outlook on racing.

“This opens my eyes to different ways of looking at things and how to approach things so it’s been it’s been good,” he said. “But still a lot to learn and we haven’t event scratched surface probably yet, so it’s been fun.”

Weather permitting, IndyCar teams will spend Thursday on the oval for the final day of pre-Indy 500 testing before moving on to next week’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Story originally appeared on Racer