NASCAR’s Next Gen Car Easing Kyle Larson’s Development Ahead of Indy 500 Debut
NASCAR’s introduction of its Next Gen Car is proving beneficial to Kyle Larson as he prepares to become the fifth driver to complete the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 “double” May 26. From an outsider’s perspective, Larson’s Chevy Camaro Cup car and Arrow McLaren have little in common, but the 2021 Cup Series champion has found on-track similarities between the two rides. That could bode well for his fortunes in his first Indy 500 appearance.
Larson completed a test with Arrow McLaren at Phoenix International Raceway Feb. 5. Speaking at a media availability Tuesday, Larson said the feel of his Cup car and Arrow McLaren at Phoenix were similar and aided his transition.
“Nothing about yesterday felt way different than what a Cup car, Next Gen car, feels like,” Larson said. “That was good for me. I think the characteristics of the IndyCar versus the Cup car, at least at Phoenix, felt very similar. You’re just going a lot faster in an IndyCar.”
Larson suggested the shift would have been much more dramatic a few years ago.
“I don’t think [the Next Gen car and Arrow McLaren are] as far apart from each other as what the previous model NASCAR Cup Series car was like or what an Xfinity car might be like,” he said. “Those are quite a bit different than a Next Gen car.”
He noted the main difference between the Cup car and IndyCar is the rate at which things happen. Larson said he appreciated the slower speeds of Phoenix, about 180-190 mph, for testing versus the 220 mph he’ll be reaching during the Indy 500. He completed his rookie orientation testing for the Indy 500 in October 2023.
There is still a learning curve, however, from making in-cockpit adjustments, like using weight jackers, in the Arrow McLaren and terminology. Larson said he still struggles with the terms “oversteer” and “understeer.” In NASCAR, it’s simply “loose” or “tight,” respectively.
“I don’t know why I can’t just say ‘loose’ or ‘tight,’” Larson joked.
There’s also the matter of finding the limit of his Arrow McLaren. Larson said he felt he was near that point during his Phoenix test, underscored by him nearly spinning out.
“I felt like I got comfortable enough where we finally found the edge there,” Larson said immediately following his test Monday. “I almost spun out…that was good to have a moment like that.”
For his competitiveness come May, Larson will continue working on the smaller details, like pulling in and out of his pit box and timing the pitting sequence, which is quicker than those in NASCAR. Those finer details, he said, must be mastered “if you really want to have a good shot at winning or running up front.”
Larson will participate in the Indianapolis 500 open test April 10-11.
In the meantime, his main driving duty calls. The NASCAR Cup Series season gets underway with the Daytona 500. Qualifying takes place Feb. 14 with the Duel races Feb. 15. The Daytona 500 and 2024 Cup Series season takes the green flag Feb. 18.