NASCAR’s Kyle Larson quick learner at Indy 500 ‘Fast Friday’ as Colton Herta tops charts

INDIANAPOLIS – It didn’t take long for “Fast Friday” at the 108thIndianapolis 500 to live up to its billing.

It also didn’t take long for Kyle Larson to live up to his billing as the most versatile racing driver on Earth.

Just two minutes into the Friday practice at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway when all cars are allowed to turn up the boost on the turbochargers, defending Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden delivered an eye-popping speed.

It was 233.868 miles per hour in the No. 2 Shell Chevrolet for Team Penske. A few minutes later, it was teammate Scott McLaughlin who upped the speed to 233.932 mph in the No. 3 Pennzoil Chevy.

From that point on, the six-hour practice became a speed show among the biggest names in racing, including 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Champion Kyle Larson.

He turned the fastest lap up to that time at 4 p.m. Eastern Time at 234.271 mph in the No. 17 Chevrolet for Arrow McLaren/Hendrick Motorsports.

Larson is a rookie in this year’s Indianapolis 500, but a superstar racer across America including the biggest series in the United States, NASCAR Sprint Cup.

With two hours left in ‘Fast Friday’ practice, Larson’s speed was the fastest followed by Newgarden at 234.260 mph, Alexander Rossi’s 234.006, McLaughlin’s 233.932 mph and Team Penske’s Will Power 233.864 mph in the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet.

One hour after setting top speed, Larson’s speed was topped by Colton Herta’s lap at 234.974 mph in the No. 26 Honda entering the final hour of “Fast Friday.”

Surprisingly, Larson expected more out of his first Fast Friday experience.

“It was less than what I expected,” Larson explained to NBC Sports after his final run. “I expected it to feel like you're going way faster than before, but surprisingly I think when the balance is OK, and the grip is still there, it definitely feels faster, but it's not like scary fast, thankfully.

“So that was good.

“I just think our balance was pretty comfortable, so I was happy about that.”

It was six hours of high-speed practice with the crew trimming out the aerodynamic package as much as possible. That means removing downforce and reducing drag so the car can cut through the air with minimum resistance and increased speed.

Rookie Nolan Siegel of Dale Coyne Racing with RWR discovered the limit when he lost control of his Honda in Turn 2, crashed hard into the wall and went airborne, landing upside-down.

He was uninjured, but the car sustained significant damage.

Larson, however, had a relatively flawless day.

“We had one run where we trimmed out some, and the sun came out and I was like ‘OK, maybe I can like kind of feel the rear being closer to the to the limit,’” Larson explained. “But yeah, overall happy with the day, happy with the speed.

“It’s hard to say where you're at yet because I feel like every run, there's some bit of tow, but I think the good thing is that the balance seems comfortable, so I don't feel like I've got a bunch of understeer or tight, for the stock car racers listening, but I don't feel super loose either, so it's pretty balanced, which is nice.”

Larson was fit with the trimming on the aero package for Friday, but will he feel comfortable trimming out even more for the pole this weekend?

“I don't know,” he said. “I think you just kind of got to play it by ear and see how much you're off or whatever. But the Penske cars seem really fast. Alexander Rossi, I feel like it seems fast. I feel like the McLaren's are next best, maybe, to the Penske cars. So, I think just got to see where you are on speed and then adjust.

“But I don't know, I felt like the one run where I felt closer to the limit, I would have made it a fourth lap. I guess that's not a fun feeling being on the limit, at this place.

“Overall, I thought it was a decent day and good to have it go smooth. No weather delays or anything pop up. So just happy about today.”

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star
Syndication: The Indianapolis Star

The crewmember in charge of deciding how much to change Larson’s car by removing downforce and drag for optimal speed is Brian Campe, Technical Director, Hendrick Motorsports who is serving as Larson’s race strategist at Arrow McLaren.

“I think we’ve recovered from yesterday; we were a bit on the back foot yesterday, off sequence with the rest of the field on tires,” Campe told “Track time today, we are back where we need to be. We started him at a conservative downforce level. We are happy with the balance of the car and the speed.

“But the lap average is different. Fast Friday is part of the differences.”

For a driver that never experienced a “Fast Friday” Larson adapted quite well, according to Campe.

“The speed, when you get down the nuts and bolts of it for Kyle and what the balance is, you only really feel it on the out lap,” Campe explained. “He said he could feel the extra boost, but after switching the engine map, after that, he is so focused on driving the car, the speed doesn’t really register.

“But he is doing a great job.”

Campe used the first half of the day to get in three solid, four-lap runs to help simulate Saturday’s qualifications, which are fastest four-lap average.

Those runs were designed to give Larson a sensation of what each step of downforce represents.

Later in the afternoon, it was a chance to focus on the details of qualifying, the shifting and the gears in preparation for Indy 500 qualification weekend.

Larson is attempting to join John Andretti, Tony Stewart, Robby Gordon and Kurt Busch as the only racing drivers that have competed in the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Cup Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the same day.

“You automatically know you are part of history,” Campe said. “Everyone appreciates Kyle’s driving talent and to get the nod from Mr. Hendrick (Rick Hendrick, NASCAR team owner), Jeff Gordon (Hendrick Motorsports Vice Chairman) and Jeff Andrews (Hendrick Motorsports President) is very special.

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star
Syndication: The Indianapolis Star

Campe began his career in NASCAR with JR Motorsports in 2009 before moving to IndyCar to join Team Penske in 2010.

He achieved tremendous success in IndyCar as the Indy 500 winning engineer for Juan Pablo Montoya in 2015. He was a vehicle dynamics engineer with Team Penske until November 2021 when he returned to NASCAR as Director of Performance Development at Hendrick Motorsports in November 2021.

One year and one month later, he was elevated to technical director.

When Larson was successful in convincing Hendrick Motorsports to run this year’s Indy 500, Campe was the obvious choice to come with him to the team from the Hendrick Motorsports side. Campe is reunited with Arrow McLaren principal Gavin Ward, who worked with Campe when he joined Team Penske in December 2017.

Ward remained with Team Penske until December 2021. Six months later, he was the Director of Trackside Engineer at Arrow McLaren, elevated to Racing Director in December 2022 and took over at Team Principal in October 2023.

“I miss Indianapolis for sure,” Campe said. “There is no way you can’t miss Indianapolis after you experience. I miss the people and I miss the racing.

“I enjoy it and I do miss it.

“Kyle is doing a great job. We are learning as a team every run.”

Campe wanted to get Larson as many laps as possible on Friday.

Another key part of Larson’s operation is Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner who is the Arrow McLaren Sporting Director.

“The more Kyle can learn, the faster he will be,” Campe said. “The traffic we put him in on Wednesday was the worst traffic he will see before the race, and Saturday and Sunday will determine where he will start and the traffic that puts him in.”

Hendrick Motorsports is fully committed to its first Indy 500.

“I have talked to everyone at Hendrick Motorsports before we left wishing us good luck,” Campe said. “They are working hard for North Wilkesboro this week and the Coca-Cola 600 next weekend.

“A big thank you to Rick and Jeff and Chad Knaus to let us take time off our day jobs and do the Indianapolis 500 and we are super proud to represent everyone at Hendrick Motorsports. I’m blessed to be able to do it.

“I don’t know that there is anything more fun than this. This is at the top of the list.”

“Fast Friday” for some led to “Frantic Friday” for others. Alex Palou’s Chip Ganassi Racing entry had to have an engine change to the Honda entry. Teammate and 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner Scott Dixon’s No. 9 PNC Bank entry was also having trouble matching the speed of the faster drivers.

“I think we’ll make the field,” Dixon quipped. “But where that will be, I don’t know.

“We’ll see where it all sorts out.”

Instead of heading to the Brushy Mountains of North Carolina to prepare for Sunday night’s NASCAR All-Star Race, Larson is at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for this weekend’s Indy 500 qualifications.

He will participate in Sunday night’s race, but if he is in contention for the “Fast 12” or in jeopardy of being in the “Last Change Qualifying” Larson will skip Saturday night’s Heat Races in North Wilkesboro.

Indy 500 qualifications will take priority, according to Larson.

But what would make this weekend at Indy successful for the NASCAR star?

“I'm not sure,” he said. “I think it would be pretty neat to make the Fast 12 and then the whatever they call it, the Fast Six. I think that would be pretty neat.

“But being a rookie and all that, I don't know if that's to be expected, but it would be pretty cool to make that and line up in the front couple rows of the race. I just want to get a good, smooth run in and make the show first.

“Being the top rookie would be cool in qualifying as well.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500