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Kyle Larson’s unconventional journey to Hendrick Motorsports

Kyle Larson was Hendrick Motorsports' number one option to replace Jimmie Johnson in 2021 entering this season. However, how did we get to this point?

NASCAR driver Kyle Larson
Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Larson will join Hendrick Motorsports in the No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season. The move, which comes after months of rumors regarding the status of the fourth Hendrick Motorsports car, is the latest in an unconventional journey for Larson.

Larson only raced four races this season due to his suspension from NASCAR. However, he posted one one top-five finish and three top-10 finishes. Since May, Larson has run in dirt races with 42 wins in 82 starts this season. Many thought Larson would end up with Hendrick Motorsports at the start of 2020, but it didn’t come without some drama.

How did we come to this point where Larson is joining Hendrick Motorsports in the middle of a three-day rain delay? It is more unconventional than everybody thought it would become.

Kyle Larson’s iRacing incident in April 2020

Larson found himself without a ride following a suspension from NASCAR for using a racial slur during an iRacing event in April. Within the industry, many viewed Larson as the top-free agent in one of the most memorable free-agency classes in recent memory. However, Larson now faced the possibility of being out of NASCAR.

The 28-year-old later completed sensitivity training for both NASCAR and the World of Outlaws. He returned to racing in May, which started one of the most successful dirt runs in modern history. Larson boasted a 51% win percentage in the dirt races he rann in 2020. Even while being suspended by NASCAR, Larson was still viewed as the top free agent in the class.

No one will be able to truly forget why Larson wasn’t in NASCAR for the 2020 season. However, Larson did more than the baseline of what he needed to do. He made a true effort to learn from his mistakes and tried to improve himself as a person. It will stick with him throughout his career, but he will use himself as an example to teach other young people and drivers.

Larson worked to improve himself on social injustice

Kyle Larson did a lot when it came to educating himself about social injustice. Since the incident, Larson has continued to work with the Urban Youth Racing School in Philadelphia. He has talked honestly about the situation and has worked to improve himself. Larson also went to Minnesota to volunteer with The Sanneh Foundation weeks before George Floyd’s funeral.

Larson penned an essay in early October, telling his story of what he has gone through since his suspension. A couple of weeks later, Larson appeared on CBS This Morning and was interviewed by CBS’ James Brown. Some people may have wanted to stay out of the public light, however, he wanted to talk about it his experiences and the lessons learned.

Larson deleted his social media accounts after the incident occurred. He kept the majority of his volunteering and improvement to himself and those closest to him. He didn’t need to make it known to social media that he worked on improving himself and learning. The pure fact of Larson working on what he needed to do, without others knowing, shows that he truly cares.

Hendrick Motorsports signs Kyle Larson for the 2021 season

One of the most unsurprising silly season moves came to fruition Wednesday when Hendrick Motorsports announced Larson would join the team in 2021. Larson had been rumored as the leading candidate to take the vacant ride.

Many people speculated that Larson would not go to Hendrick Motorsports due to Chevrolet terminating their relationship with him in April. However, Chevrolet’s VP of Motorsports Jim Campbell had a different thought when it came to Hendrick Motorsports signing Kyle Larson.

“Chevrolet supports NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports’ commitment to prioritize the values of diversity and inclusion across the sport and for all fans,” Campbell stated. “We have a long and respected relationship with Hendrick Motorsports and have openly shared our position as a sponsor that we will continue to hold our racing partner and affiliate drivers accountable to behave in ways that adhere to these values, on and off the track. Kyle has taken positive steps focused on listening and learning and has expressed his commitment to be an agent of change for the positive when it comes to inclusivity and diversity in NASCAR.”

Cliff Daniels will be Larson’s crew chief atop the box after it was announced Rudy Fugle will join Hendrick Motorsports to be the crew chief for William Byron in 2021. Larson also signed a multi-year deal with the organization and currently has an unsponsored car for next season. With around three months left until the Daytona 500, there will be plenty of time to find sponsors, if there is anything out there.

The bottom line

With Kyle Larson now in the fold, the future of Hendrick Motorsports is brighter than it has been in a long time. This move allows Hendrick to gain a championship-caliber combo in Larson and Daniels for years to come. The 28-year-old California native spent the first seven years of his NASCAR Cup Series career with Chip Ganassi Racing with six wins and no championships.

Rick Hendrick has created a future super-team with the likes of Larson, Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman and William Byron. Elliott and Bowman are still fighting for a championship this year, while Byron goes forward as a driver with a high ceiling. The talent and budding potential are there, and Hendrick realizes that the future of his team is bright.

“I’m excited about our roster of young talent,” Hendrick said. “We have a team that is built to win races and compete for championships for years to come.

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