Larson returns to NASCAR in 2021 with Hendrick Motorsports

Kyle Larson (Getty Images)

Kyle Larson will return to NASCAR with Hendrick Motorsports next season. The team announced Wednesday that Larson has signed a multi-year contract with the team.

“Kyle is unquestionably one of the most talented race car drivers in the world,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports. “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,28, was fired from Chip Ganassi Racing in April after uttering a racial slur during an online game. He was suspended by NASCAR shortly before the firing but has since completed sensitivity training at NASCAR’s direction. He also apologized for his actions through his social media channels. NASCAR officials confirmed Oct. 16 that Larson had applied for reinstatement and was granted that last week.

Since his firing, Larson returned to his racing roots competing in sprint cars winning 42 races. He entered the Cup series fulltime in 2014 with Ganassi winning six races in his 223 starts. In addition, Larson has 101 top-10 finishes and four playoff berths (2016-2019).  He also won the NASCAR All-Star Race in 2019.

“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.

The team said that in 2021, he will be paired with crew chief Cliff Daniels, 32, who currently leads the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team with seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson who will retire at the end of this season.

Hendrick will retire the No. 88 car which has raced in the NASCAR Cup Series since 2008, as Alex Bowman moves from that Chevy to the No. 48 of Johnson. The organization will bring back the Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 5 Chevrolet for Larson, which the team said is currently unsponsored for 2021. The No. 5 was the original car number campaigned by Hendrick Motorsports when Rick Hendrick founded the team in 1984. That year, Geoff Bodine drove it to three victories, including Hendrick’s first as a Cup Series car owner on April 29, 1984, at Martinsville Speedway.

“The ‘5’ is special to me. It’s the original,” Hendrick said. “I view it as Hendrick Motorsports’ flagship team in a lot of ways. To bring the car back to the racetrack is meaningful for my family and for many of our team members and fans. We plan to build on its winning history with Kyle and Cliff.”

With 1,129 NASCAR Cup Series starts, the No. 5 has appeared in more races for Hendrick Motorsports than any other car. Larson will be the 10th driver to field the number for the organization and will look to be the seventh to record a Cup win behind the wheel. It was most recently driven by Kasey Kahne in 2017.

In the No. 5 Chevy for Hendrick Motorsports, Terry Labonte recorded 12 victories and won the 1996 Cup Series championship. Bodine won seven races, followed by Kahne (six), Mark Martin (five), Kyle Busch (four), and Ricky Rudd (four). The No. 5’s total of 38 wins for Hendrick Motorsports trails only its Nos. 24 and 48 teams, which have 94 and 83 victories, respectively.