IndyCar won’t bend rules for Kyle Larson’s


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INDIANAPOLIS – As Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports and Arrow McLaren navigate the conflicts and realities of the racing world’s first attempt at ‘The Double’ in a decade, IndyCar officials believe the No. 17 Chevy entry should be held to identical standards as the rest of the field to avoid the appearance of special treatment while he is – or because he is – in the spotlight.

And it’s raising some questions.

The fifth driver to attempt ‘The Double’ – running IndyCar’s Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 within hours of each other May 26 — Larson will be the first barred from having a precautionary ‘relief’ driver on-hand to step in and attempt to finish the Indy 500 in his place. Should inclement weather delay the 500 and force Larson to leave Indianapolis Motor Speedway before taking the checkered flag, IndyCar officials are refusing to budge on rules put in place following Kurt Busch’s Double attempt in 2014 that complicate or outright prevent a driver substitution for someone in Larson’s position.

According to a series spokesperson, IndyCar barred designated ‘reserve’ drivers on-hand to take over a car in 2015, the year after Busch ran The Double with Andretti Autosport and Stewart-Haas Racing. Though Busch completed all 200 laps at IMS that afternoon, at the time, he would’ve been permitted to have a driver on stand-by, should his NASCAR priorities have made him unable to complete the 500.

A year later, the spokesperson said, IndyCar further clarified that only drivers who had already been cleared and participated in 500 practice that year could be selected by a team in need of a race-day stand-in. Should a team wish to use someone outside the pool of active drivers that month, that driver would have to go through a standard refresher session – and only after the team had withdrawn the primary driver from potential competition.

The series hasn’t offered up much background on the timing or reasoning for the decision but IndyCar has eliminated a 500 tradition that dates back to the inaugural edition of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing in 1911: The use of a ‘relief’ driver as a mid-race substitute.

At a time when the series could use more exposure while it has one of the most talented and popular drivers of his generation – worldwide – in its race, IndyCar’s position of giving Larson, Arrow McLaren and Hendrick no special treatment this May is making the execution of one of its most anticipated entries in decades increasingly difficult. In this instance, the black-and-white stipulations in the rulebook seem to mean everything – entertainment be damned. In others, it’s not the case.

Why Tony Kanaan can’t serve as Kyle Larson’s reserve driver

For months, it had been understood that one of the perks of Arrow McLaren selecting team sporting director and 2013 500 winner Tony Kanaan to spearhead Larson’s Double attempt was that, should the team run into weather woes on race day, the two just happen to be the same size. In a pinch, the 49-year-old Kanaan could come out of retirement and slide into Larson’s seat if Larson needed a stand-in for the entire race or to get it to the finish line.

According to a series official, rules barring or highly regulating such a move had been spelled out in the rulebook and communicated well in advance of the start of 500 practice Tuesday. The paddock learned nearly a month ago that IndyCar would no longer allow for a mid-race ‘relief driver’; a report from this week brought to light that it would be extremely difficult for Kanaan to serve as a last-minute substitute for Larson.

“I think it’s all the evolution of the safety of the sport,” Arrow McLaren team principal Gavin Ward told IndyStar Wednesday after 500 practice ended, noting that the team continues discuss what its emergency options are if Larson needs to prioritize the Coke 600 to stay playoff-eligible in the Cup series. “We’re working in collaboration with IndyCar to clarify what we can and can’t do.”

Kyle Larson attempts the Double: Indianapolis 500-NASCAR Cup schedule

IndyCar representatives, though, seem to indicate that final decisions, in the case of Larson, Kanaan and this year’s 500, have been made — despite the historic circumstances around the No. 17 and the added attention.

IndyCar didn’t address questions about why relief drivers have been outlawed. Robby Gordon, the second-most-recent Double driver, used one in 2004 due to a nearly two-hour rain delay that forced the NASCAR driver to leave for Charlotte. When the race went back green, Jaques Lazier (who had practiced earlier in the month but didn’t end up in a qualified entry) had been tapped to hop in; his day ended just short of the halfway mark due to a mechanical failure. That is believed to be the last time an in-race relief driver was used in IndyCar.

As peculiar as the disappearance of that rule may be, the formal complication of Kanaan’s ability to replace Larson next weekend, should weather make it necessary, is both messier and harder to understand.

Who could replace Kyle Larson in the Indy 500?

By barring the use of officially named reserve drivers, IndyCar is essentially forcing teams to have one driver formally attached to each entry. Teams can’t, for example, have their primary driver practice as normal and run a separate driver in the veteran refresher segment on Day 1 to be qualified for race day if needed.

Should rain delay the 500 and prevent Larson from starting the race at all, only a driver who had already run this month would be allowed to replace him without additional series approval, according to Rule With this year’s field of 34 cars fighting for 33 spots, only the driver who is bumped would be eligible – unless, of course, Arrow McLaren bought out another driver currently in the field; at which point only the bumped driver would be eligible to fill that newly opened seat.

Kanaan could be brought into the fold, but he would need to pass a refresher program, and it wouldn’t be possible with IMS’ regimented schedule race day morning. The only way Arrow McLaren could substitute Kanaan would be by withdrawing Larson from the field the Friday or Saturday before the race to hold a special session to clear the 2013 500 winner.

Knowing how much time, effort and money is invested in Larson’s pursuit of this lifelong dream, the idea that Arrow McLaren and Hedrick officials would give up on it from looking at Indiana spring weather forecasts 48 hours from the green flag seems inconceivable.

Arrow McLaren teammates on Kyle Larson: ‘The guy can drive anything that’s got wheels’

Why is IndyCar making this so difficult?

The larger, more pertinent question is: Why is IndyCar making this so complicated — and one might argue, unnecessarily prohibitive — for one of its most high-profile entries from comfortably executing plans for the No. 17 Chevy on the biggest day of the year?

Any driver attempting The Double becomes the most talked about storyline of the month and draws mainstream sporting world interest. And if those plans get thrown out of whack on race day, the idea that Kanaan, the twice-retired 49-year-old, could be plucked off the timing stand Sunday morning and asked to hop in the car would truly be one of the wildest stories the series has seen in recent memory.

And the idea that the car could not run at all if weather gets in the way to that extent (as unlikely as that may be), is the latest example of a series that, at times, can’t get out of its own way.

‘I would love it’: Josef Newgarden eager to do the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 ‘Double’

By greenlighting a finish to last year’s 500 that included a first-of-its-kind single-lap shootout with a half-lap warmup that posed safety risks and left the leader a sitting duck in the name of the “entertainment” of a green flag finish, the series showed where its priorities lie when on this massive stage. Yes, the IndyCar rulebook allows decisionmakers to “abandon procedures” for a race restart. And yes, permitting Kanaan to go out in the coming days for 20-30 minutes for the final two phases of the refresher program while keeping Larson eligible to start the race may be against the rules.

But The Double is a feat few in motorsports have — and will — attempt. Some rules help maintain the reverence, history and tradition of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Regulations that make The Double that much more difficult to tackle with nothing more than “because we said so within the last decade” as the reasoning does none of those things.

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