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The exclusive list of NASCAR Cup champions with Indy 500 starts

In the 108th running of the Indianapolis 500, Kyle Larson will join a very exclusive group.

Bobby Allison, Penske Racing, McLaren M16C Offenhauser at Indy 500 in 1973

Only five NASCAR Cup Series drivers have ventured into the world of American open-wheel racing. Among that group, only five were or went on to be Cup champions. Kyle Larson will be the sixth when he takes the green flag in the 2024 Indianapolis 500.

So, let's take a look back at the complete list of NASCAR Cup champions who have also run 'The Greatest Spectacle in Racing' over the years. This exclusive list of Indy 500 starters goes all the way back to 1966...

Cale Yarborough 

3x NASCAR Cup champion (1976, 1977, 1978)

4x Indy 500 starter (1966, 1967, 1971, and 1972)

The NASCAR Hall of Famer passed away at the end of last year, and will be remembered as one of the toughest drivers in the history of stock car racing. 

While still making a name for himself in NASCAR, he attempted both 1966 and 1967 Indianapolis 500, driving a Vollstedt-Ford. Unfortunately, he crashed out in both races. When Ford pulled its factory support for its NASCAR teams, he suddenly found himself without a ride. He turned his eyes to open-wheel racing, running ten USAC races. This would include his third attempt at the Indy 500, finishing 16th for Gene White. His best finish was fifth, coming at Trenton Speedway and later repeated at Michigan.

In 1972, he completed his fourth and final Indy 500. He finished a career-best tenth after starting 32nd. He fully committed to stock car racing after this, winning three consecutive Cup titles between 1976 and 1978.

Bobby Allison

1983 NASCAR Cup champion

2x Indy 500 starter (1973 and 1975)

A member of one of the most famous families in NASCAR, many aren't aware about the Alabama-born driver's two Indy 500 attempts. Driving for the legendary Roger Penske he qualified 12th as a rookie in 1973. His brother Donnie had already made two starts in the Indy 500, finishing fourth in 1970 and sixth in 1971 for Foyt-Greer Racing. Sadly, the elder Allison brother did not fair as well, failing to make it past the opening lap after suffering a blown engine. He finished 32nd.

Allison joined Penske's NASCAR team later in 1974 and returned to Indy with team the following year. He managed to lead a single lap during a pit cycle but failed to finish the race, retiring with a gearbox issue after 112 of 200 laps. He finished 25th. He ran a handful of open-wheel races that year, earning a career-best finish of sixth at Ontario Motor Speedway.

Bobby Allison, Penske Racing, McLaren M16C Offenhauser at Indy 500 in 1973

Bobby Allison, Penske Racing, McLaren M16C Offenhauser at Indy 500 in 1973

Photo by: David Phipps

Tony Stewart

3x NASCAR Cup champion (2002, 2005 and 2011)

5x Indy 500 starter (1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001)

Perhaps the most well-known of this group, it's hard to imagine anyone who doesn't know of Stewart's background. Before becoming a NASCAR superstar, he was an IndyCar champion. As a rookie, he earned pole position for the 1996 Indianapolis 500. He dominated the start of the race for Team Menard. He led 44 of the first 82 laps, but an engine issue ended his race early. He finished 24th.

In 1997, he was very strong as well, qualifying second and finishing fifth after leading 64 laps. He brushed the wall late but was able to limp it home, crossing the line as the last car on the lead lap. 1998 was a disappointing 500 for Stewart, finishing dead last (33rd) after losing an engine early in the event. He was leading the race when the engine expired.

He was a bit quieter in 1999, driving from 24th on the grid to finish a respectable ninth. It was also the first time he had attempted the Indy 500/Coke 600 double, finishing fourth in the 600 later that same day.

2001 was the final time 'Smoke' ran the Indy 500, again aiming to complete all 1,100 miles between Indianapolis and Charlotte. Driving for Chip Ganassi at Indy, he finished sixth, and then went on to finish third at Charlotte. It remains the best showing by any driver who has attempted to run both races on the same day, and Stewart is the only one to complete all laps in both races.

Tony Stewart and Chip Ganassi Racing Team

Tony Stewart and Chip Ganassi Racing Team

Photo by: indyracing.com photo by Ron McQueeney

Kurt Busch

2004 NASCAR Cup champion

2014 Indy 500 starter

The elder Busch brother is the first driver on this list who was already a proven Cup champion before attempting to run the 500. Despite crashing in practice, he went on to qualify 12th. Driving for Andretti Autosport, he impressed with a solid showing of sixth despite zero previous experience as an IndyCar driver. 

He also ran both races in the same day, but failed to finish the Coke 600 with a blown engine.

Kurt Busch, Andretti Autosport Honda

Kurt Busch, Andretti Autosport Honda

Photo by: John Cote

Jimmie Johnson

7x NASCAR Cup champion (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013, and 2016)

2022 Indy 500 starter

After retiring from full-time NASCAR Cup Series competition, 7x Cup champion Jimmie Johnson chose to try out IndyCar. Driving for Ganassi, he ran only the road and street courses in 2021. It was a struggle for Johnson, but the veteran driver showed promise on the ovals in 2022. He finished sixth at Texas and ended up qualifying 12th for his Indy 500 debut. He led two laps, but unfortunately, crashed out of the race after 193 of 200 laps. He finished 28th.

Jimmie Johnson, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

Jimmie Johnson, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

Photo by: Geoffrey M. Miller / Motorsport Images

Kyle Larson

2021 NASCAR Cup champion

2024 Indy 500 starter

Larson is set to become the first driver to attempt The Double (weather-permitting) in a decade, but no matter when the race happens, he will join this article's list once he takes the green flag at Indianapolis. Larson currently leads the regular season standings in NASCAR and already won a Cup title in 2021.

He is an accomplished sprint car driver and has won countless races on dirt tracks across the country. Despite never competing in IndyCar before, he quickly acclimated himself to the car. Driving for Arrow McLaren, which has partnered with Hendrick Motorsports for this race, he qualified fifth for the 500.

He has the potential to match or even surpass Stewart's 2011 effort, and he's shown no reason why we should think otherwise. 

Kyle Larson, Arrow McLaren/Rick Hendrick Chevrolet

Kyle Larson, Arrow McLaren/Rick Hendrick Chevrolet

Photo by: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images

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