Kyle Larson in traffic

Scott McLaughlin gave Kyle Larson a quick, supportive comment following Monday’s practice for the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, the latest sign that Larson is doing the right things at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It was an important two-hour practice for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion trying the NTT INDYCAR SERIES for the first time this month. Among the key moments was an at-speed passing attempt on “500” pole winner McLaughlin approaching Turn 1, but Larson backed out of the side-by-side adventure before getting too deep in the corner.

McLaughlin surely appreciated it, and both cars were better for it.

“I was just trying to learn,” Larson said after McLaughlin walked away. “I had a good run. I left plenty of space thinking we’d race into the corner, but I just wanted to see what that kind of run was like if and when I need to bail (out of the throttle) – or vice versa if he needs to bail out.

“It wasn’t too sketchy from my position, but it was just another something that I wanted to learn and was glad I got to learn.”

Larson, the driver of the No. 17 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet, seemed to learn a hundred or more somethings Monday as the 33-car field gathered for its first practice as an official group. There often were collections of 20 or more cars together on the 2.5-mile oval, swapping positions to simulate conditions that will be present during Sunday’s race (11 a.m. ET, NBC, Universo, Peacock, INDYCAR Radio Network). Larson often was in the middle of them, and he even got the chance to lead such a group.

As Larson will make his first start in the “500” and no other practice so far this month has had Monday’s type of action, it was important for him to experience everything he could. His next such opportunity will come Friday in the Miller Lite Carb Day practice, which also is scheduled to be two hours in duration (11 a.m.-1 p.m. ET).

“So far, this has been the best, most experience I’ve gotten to gain in a day when it comes to racing,” Larson said. “So, I feel much more comfortable and confident that I’ll be able to do a good job and not be caught off guard as many things. I’m sure there’s still going to be a lot that’s going to catch me off guard in the race, but as far as getting to finally do hard runs to pit entry and getting to do some sort of live-style pit stops, it was very useful for me.

“Yeah, I thought today was very productive.”

Larson completed 70 laps during the session, about 10 laps shy of the field average. His fastest lap of 223.312 mph ranked 28th. Larson will take the green flag Sunday from the fifth position, which comes in the middle of Row 2.

Proof that Monday’s lap times likely aren’t a predictor of what happens in the 200-lap race, McLaughlin’s best lap of 224.031 mph was 21st on the chart. The driver of the No. 3 Pennzoil Team Penske Chevrolet qualified more than 10 mph faster – 234.220 mph – and is expected to have one of the cars to beat when it counts.

More important for Larson on Monday was experiencing the nuances of the sport. As an example, he estimated he made more than a half-dozen simulated pit stops. While he likely will need to make five or six such stops on Race Day, it was beneficial to do as many as he could on this day, and then he will do more on Carb Day.

“We did like four sort of pit stops, but I had probably four or five other runs where I came hard to the commitment line (at the entrance to pit road), so I feel very comfortable getting to the commitment line,” he said. “As far as anybody else I was behind, I gained a ton of time on them.”

Defending “500” winner Josef Newgarden was one of those drivers Larson followed to pit road, and yes, Larson gained considerably on the driver of the No. 2 Shell Powering Progress Team Penske Chevrolet. But it’s also likely that Newgarden was in no particular hurry in a practice nor was he interested in showing the newcomer how to execute a perfect entry.

“I don’t know much they were pushing it, but I was,” Larson said, laughing.

Time will tell.