As NASCAR enters its third day of waiting out the rain in Texas, Hendrick Motorsports announced that they have signed Kyle Larson to begin racing for them in 2021. Larson will take over Alex Bowman’s #88, which will be renumbered to #5 while Bowman takes over Jimmie Johnson’s #48 as the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion takes a step back from full-time Cup competition to race IndyCar in 2021.
Larson had been suspended from NASCAR for the past six months after saying the N-word on a livestream during a virtual race. The next day, NASCAR suspended Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing fired him, and his sponsors denounced him.
Until recently, Larson kept a relatively low profile while he did some soul searching. Other than constantly winning sprint car races, Larson’s name was largely out of the public spotlight. It wasn’t until three weeks ago he spoke in-depth about what happened and what he has done to learn from what he said.
In a statement on his website, Larson said he destroyed his reputation and blamed only himself if his career would never get back to what it once was. He also said he let a lot of people down, including his fans, his crew members, and his parents especially because his mother is Japanese and her parents were held in internment camps during World War II.
Privately, Larson spent time with the Urban Youth Racing School, a program he had volunteered with since 2018, and listened to Black students and their parents who had previously saw him as someone they could look up to. Larson also went to Minnesota to volunteer for a food drive through the Sanneh Foundation and visited George Floyd’s memorial to listen to those who have been protesting and gain their perspective. Larson doesn’t forget what he said, and he and others probably won’t let him forget that, but he said that he hopes he can be a resource for others to get them to see that words and actions matter and to not learn that lesson the hard way like he did. Since making that statement, he has done occasional interviews both in print and on TV.
Larson was reinstated by NASCAR just a short time ago and had mended relationships with previous partners like Chevrolet. While Hendrick hasn’t revealed any sponsors for Larson at this time, it’s very likely they consulted with their sponsors about how they felt if the team hired Larson before going forward with the announcement.
At 28-years-old, Larson will become the oldest and most experienced driver at Hendrick Motorsports. Hendrick has previously had an experienced champ at the helm of one of their cars, namely Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson, but this will be a whole new experience for one of the most successful teams in NASCAR.