Report: Kyle Larson is the leading candidate to join Hendrick Motorsports in 2021

Kyle Larson is reportedly the leading candidate to replace seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson at Hendrick Motorsports in 2021. Here's why it makes sense.

Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Larson has been tearing up the dirt racing world since his suspension from NASCAR in April. While many have speculated he would not return for the 2021 season, Larson might be on his way to rejoining NASCAR with a top organization.

According to The Athletic’s Jordan Bianchi, Kyle Larson is viewed as the leading candidate to replace Jimmie Johnson at Hendrick Motorsports in 2021.

While it does not mean he will be taking over the famed No. 48 car, it indicates Larson may replace a NASCAR legend after all of the controversies since his suspension.

Why would Hendrick Motorsports pick Kyle Larson?

If Hendrick Motorsports decided to sign Larson, it would be met with a tremendous PR hit. With other options such as Erik Jones and Bubba Wallace available, it could be argued that there are easier targets. However, the 28-year-old from Elk Grove, California, has the talent that no current free agent can replicate.

Jones and Wallace have their appeals, but Wallace might be headed to Gaunt Brothers Racing. If the move happens, it leaves Jones as the easy plug-in driver. However, Jones has struggled at Joe Gibbs Racing. Their equipment has been better than Hendrick Motorsports, but it hasn’t translated to playoff success for the 24-year-old driver.

With no sponsorship, Jones hasn’t shown enough to land the ride. Larson is the only driver that contains the abilities to mask the sponsorship concerns. He has six wins with Chip Ganassi Racing, which is typically viewed as having mid-tier equipment. Outside of the controversy surrounding him, many view Larson’s skills as a once-in-a-generation talent.

How would this work with Chevrolet dropping him?

Chevrolet terminated their relationship with Larson when they dropped him due to his iRacing incident in April. This does not mean he can’t drive for them again. In fact, if there is an owner that can convince Chevrolet to let Larson drive for them, it’s Rick Hendrick.

They terminated their relationship with Larson at the time of the incident. None of that means Chevrolet would be forced to say no. The decision is up to them whether they would allow it to happen or not. If Hendrick really wants him, it would be hard to say no to one of the sport’s most prominent figures.

It seems unlikely that Ally would want to tag along with Larson if he were to come to Hendrick Motorsports, due to their emphasis on diversity. Perhaps, the easier solution would be sliding over Alex Bowman or William Byron into the No. 48 with Ally and giving Larson the vacant seat. Larson could bring sponsorship with him to Hendrick Motorsports or Hendrick could fund it out of his pockets. Eventually, Larson could gain sponsorships if he runs at the level people think he can. Winning solves a lot of issues.

Larson’s potential reinstatement shouldn’t be an issue. Once he formally asks to be reinstated, the process will be quick. He completed his sensitivity training for NASCAR and has been trying to learn from his mistake behind the scenes. After the 2020 season, Larson will have served a 32-race suspension.

The bottom line

Hendrick Motorsports needs to figure out what they are doing for their future. Hiring the wrong driver to replace seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson could set them back for years to come.

Hendrick knows they need to make a splash this offseason. They cannot remain complacent and settle for a driver that does not fit. The driver needs to be cheap, talented, and compete for a championship right away.

Kyle Larson checks off what Hendrick Motorsports needs to return to their dominant form and they might believe that too.