Kyle Larson is back in NASCAR.
Hendrick Motorsports announced Wednesday that Larson would drive for the team in 2021. Larson has been out of NASCAR since he was fired four races into the 2020 season by Chip Ganassi Racing for saying the N-word during a virtual race broadcast on NASCAR’s website in April.
Larson, 28, will join Alex Bowman, William Byron and Chase Elliott at Hendrick. All four drivers are under the age of 30.
“Kyle is unquestionably one of the most talented race car drivers in the world,” team owner Rick Hendrick said in a statement. “He has championship-level ability and will be a significant addition to our on-track program. More importantly, I have full confidence that he understands our expectations and will be a tremendous ambassador for our team, our partners and NASCAR. Kyle and I have had many, many conversations leading up to today’s announcement. I’m confident about what’s in his heart and his desire to be a champion in all aspects of his life and career. Kyle has done important work over the past six months, and Hendrick Motorsports is going to support those continued efforts.”
Larson was considered the top free agent ahead of the 2021 season before his firing. Chip Ganassi Racing parted ways with him after he was indefinitely suspended by NASCAR and his two main sponsors had disassociated themselves from him.
NASCAR reinstated Larson earlier this month after he had completed the steps necessary to apply for reinstatement. Larson previously wrote an apology letter on his website this fall and also did an interview with “CBS This Morning” where he detailed his personal growth since he was fired for using the racial slur.
“Hendrick Motorsports is a championship organization that has set a high bar for performance and for how its drivers represent the team and its partners,” Larson said. “My goal is to win races, be a great teammate, continue my personal efforts to grow, and hold myself to that high standard personally and professionally. Making the absolute most of this platform and the opportunity in front of me is my focus. I know what’s expected of me and what I expect of myself, on and off the track.”
Larson will drive the No. 5 car
Larson’s arrival at Hendrick means that the team will not field a No. 88 car in 2021. Larson will drive the No. 5. Bowman, the current driver of the No. 88 car, is moving over to drive the No. 48 car after Jimmie Johnson’s retirement.
Hendrick Motorsports hasn’t fielded the No. 5 car since Kasey Kahne last drove for the team in 2017.
Larson has six wins
Larson was promoted full-time to the Cup Series by CGR in 2014. He won his first race in 2016 and has won six races across 223 starts at NASCAR’s top level.
Larson entered the 2020 season with four consecutive finishes in the top 10 in the points standings and had three top 10s in four races before the NASCAR season was halted because of the coronavirus pandemic.
His hiring at Hendrick Motorsports is both a coup for the team and the driver. Larson is still ending up at one of the top teams in NASCAR despite his firing and Hendrick is able to get a driver considered to be one of the most talented in the country at an ostensibly reduced rate.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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