Kyle Larson’s long day

A helicopter carrying driver Kyle Larson lands just outside of North Wilkesboro Speedway. Larson, who started the day qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, made the wild 530-mile trip to arrive just over an hour before driving to a fifth-place finish in the All-Star Race. (photo by Shawn Krest/North State Journal)

After making a wild 529.9-mile trip to show up to work on time, Kyle Larson found out that the final 45 feet were the hardest.

Larson had a test run for an even higher-profile daily double next weekend. The day before Memorial Day, he’ll attempt to become just the second driver to complete “The Double” and drive every lap of the Indy 500 and Charlotte’s Coca Cola 600.

Tony Stewart made the 1,100-mile round (and round) trip in 2001. Many other drivers have attempted the feat and fallen short, either due to engine problems (John Andretti in 1994, Kurt Busch in 2014), weather complicating the schedule (Robbie Gordon in 1997, 2000, 2003 and 2004). Gordon missed the full Double by one lap in 2002.

Now, Larson, who had a dominating All Star Race win last year in North Wilkesboro, decided to add to the level of difficulty of repeating by becoming the first driver in a decade to try The Double.

Larson spent most of the week in Indy, attempting to qualify for the 500. He found success on Sunday, when he earned the fifth spot.

Then the real race—against the clock—began. He was rushed from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in trip that involved an SUV, helicopter and private jet. He landed at the Wilkes County Airport and boarded another chopper, which landed just outside of turn three at the North Wilkesboro speedway. A golf cart took him the rest of the way.

Kyle Larson, left, and his wife Katelyn Sweet, leave the helicopter and rush to a waiting golf cart after arriving at North Wilkesboro Speedway. (Photo by Shawn Krest/NSJ)

He arrived at 7:15 PM, a little over an hour before the green flag and three hours after leaving his Indy car.

“Obviously, this was a little bit different,” Larson said. “I feel like I’ve raced multiple cars in the same day. I’ve gone from Louden (New Hampshire) to the Kings Royal (Ohio), or winning the pole in Richmond (Virginia), then going to run the Knoxville (Iowa) Nationals. I’ve done those on the same day. It’s definitely a bigger magnitude, but I’ve done it … maybe five times. Maybe that makes me a little more relaxed on days like today.”

Once Larson had arrived at North Wilkesboro, he was ready to start his day job. His crew had spent the day getting the car ready for him again. Kevin Harvick came out of the Fox broadcast booth—and retirement—to drive the practice laps for him on Saturday, and the crew installed his old seat and seat rails in the car, so he’d be more comfortable.

With his own seat back in place, Larson had to start from the back—the penalty for changing drivers. He also had never driven on the resurfaced track at North Wilkesboro, nor had he driven with the new Goodyear Reds tires, developed specifically for the surface.

“I got up to speed right away,” he said. “I was passing cars immediately.”

After gradually working his way up, Larson made his move with about 35 laps to go, following a caution. He made a run at the lead, passing his way into third place and got as close as three car lengths—about 45 feet—from frontrunner Joey Logano.

“I had a really good restart,” he said. “Got to third pretty quickly and was in the best spot to win. I thought for sure we’d win.”

That was as close as he’d get. After passing most of his competitors down low, his lap times started creeping up a bit, and his strategy wouldn’t work to make up the final gap.

“My car just felt really loose there,” he said. “I had to move up to the top, and they started driving away from me. Then the guys from behind started catching me.”

Larson would have to settle for fourth place, and a solid test run in what promises to be a hectic Memorial Day weekend.

“I’ve made that flight from Indianapolis to Charlotte a number of times,” he said. “It’s an hour, if you’re wondering. That’s no big deal. The dry run was more good for things we can clean up on logistics. I didn’t have my fire suit in Indy. So I had to change when I got here. So, having my 600 suit on the airplane, so I can change and get out of sweaty (clothes) would be nice.”

Larson also gets a bit of down time before doing it all over again.

“We practice tomorrow and Friday,” he said. “There’s some media—lunches, that sort of thing, throughout the week. It’ll be nice to get some days out of the car to relax.”