Kyle Larson is officially returning to NASCAR’s top series for the 2021 season; per a Thursday announcement from Hendrick Motorsports, he will drive the team’s No. 5 car on a multi-year deal.
Larson was considered the top upcoming free agent ahead of the 2020 season, but was suspended by NASCAR and fired by his former team, Chip Ganassi Racing, after uttering the N-word aloud on a streamed iRacing event in April. Larson was previously reinstated by NASCAR on Oct. 19.
“Kyle is unquestionably one of the most talented race car drivers in the world,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports, in the Thursday announcement. “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 on Oct. 4 published an essay titled, “Kyle Larson: My Lesson Learned,” in which he acknowledged he had no excuse for using a racial slur during the iRacing event. He also said he was rightly suspended by NASCAR for his use of the slur, and used the time away from the sport’s top series to better educate himself and learn to create opportunities for Black people and people of color in the sport.
That said, Larson hasn’t been completely removed from racing. He has competed in the World of Outlaws, where he has claimed several victories over the past few months.
Other changes to Hendrick Motorsports’ four-car team in 2021 include a switch by Alex Bowman from the No. 88 Chevrolet to the No. 48 car, replacing seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson. Larson’s future teammates will be Chase Elliott and William Byron. Bowman’s current crew chief, Greg Ives, will join him with the 48 team, allowing Cliff Daniels, Johnson’s current crew chief, to take over the new No. 5 team. Hendrick Motorsports will no longer field the No. 88 car, once driven by Dale Earnhardt Jr.