Kyle Larson, exiled from NASCAR six months after uttering a racial slur, will return to the Cup Series and drive for Hendrick Motorsports in 2021.
Larson signed a multi-year deal Wednesday morning, the team announced.
He will drive the No. 5 car — which will return to Cup for the first time since 2017. Cliff Daniels will be Larson’s crew chief. Hendrick Motorsports stated in its release that the car is currently unsponsored.
The hiring comes as Larson has worked to rehabilitate his image after uttering a racial slur during an esports racing game on April 12.
NASCAR suspended Larson April 13. Chip Ganassi Racing fired Larson a day later. NASCAR required Larson to attend sensitivity training. Larson completed the training by May 6. Larson detailed his personal journey of reflection in an Oct. 4 essay posted on his website.
NASCAR announced Oct. 19 that Larson would be cleared to return to the sport on Jan. 1, 2021.
Car owner Rick Hendrick addressed Larson’s hiring in a statement:
“Kyle is unquestionably one of the most talented race car drivers in the world,” Hendrick said. “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.”
As part of NASCAR’s terms for his reinstatement, Larson will have follow-up training with RISE through 2023. RISE is the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality, a national nonprofit that educates and empowers the sports community to eliminate racial discrimination, champion social justice and improve race relations.
Larson also will do several speaking engagements within the NASCAR community and serve as a coach/mentor for the Urban Youth Racing School and Rev Racing. Larson has been a volunteer with the Urban Youth Racing School since 2018. The school, located in Philadelphia, helps expose students of color to motorsports.
“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.
“Mr. Hendrick is one of the people who extended a hand to me over the past six months. Our initial conversations were not about racing. He cares about me as a person and wants to see me succeed beyond driving. I can’t put into words how grateful I am for the commitment, the faith and the confidence from him and everyone at Hendrick Motorsports.”
Jim Campbell, U.S. vice president of Performance and Motorsports for Chevrolet stated: “Chevrolet supports NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports’ commitment to prioritize the values of diversity and inclusion across the sport and for all fans. 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 partners 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.”
— Kyle Larson (@KyleLarsonRacin) October 28, 2020
“I’m excited about our roster of young talent,” Hendrick said in a statement. “We have a team that is built to win races and compete for championships for years to come.”
Larson returned to dirt track racing while he was suspended by NASCAR. Larson won 40 of 80 dirt track events through earlier this month.
With the return of the No. 5 car, Hendrick Motorsports will no longer field the No. 88 car that it has raced in Cup since 2008.
The No. 5 is the original car number Hendrick Motorsports campaigned when Hendrick founded the team in 1984.
“The ‘5’ is special to me. It’s the original,” Hendrick said in a statement. “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.”
Larson will be the 10th driver to race the No. 5 for Hendrick. Terry Labonte won 12 races and the 1996 Cup title with that number. Geoff Bodine won seven races with that number, including the first win for Hendrick in April 1984 at Martinsville Speedway.