Kyle Larson returns to NASCAR with Hendrick in #5 Cup car

Suspended driver Kyle Larson will not only return to NASCAR competition in 2021, but he will do so with one of the sport’s most successful teams.

Hendrick Motorsports confirmed Wednesday that Larson has signed a multi-year contract to compete in the Cup Series with the organization beginning next season.

Larson will take over the team currently driven by Alex Bowman, but it will be rebranded as the No. 5, a number HMS has used previously. Cliff Daniels will serve as Larson’s crew chief. Bowman is moving to the organization’s No. 48 next season to replace Jimmie Johnson.

NASCAR recently announced that Larson will be cleared to return to all NASCAR racing activities on Jan. 1, 2021.

Larson, 28, was fired from his Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 team in April for using a racial slur during the broadcast of an iRacing event and was also indefinitely suspended by NASCAR at the time.

“Kyle is unquestionably one of the most talented race car drivers in the world,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports, in a statement. “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.”

Jim Campbell, U.S. vice president of Performance and Motorsports, said of Larson’s return:

“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.”

In 223 Cup starts, Larson has six wins, 56 top-five and 101 top-10 finishes. During his suspension from NASCAR he has won 42 races in 83 open-wheel starts.

Larson is half Japanese and the only Asian-American to regularly compete in NASCAR. He is the first NASCAR Drive for Diversity graduate to race full-time at the Cup level and now serves as a mentor for the program.

Since 2018, he has been a volunteer with the Urban Youth Racing School in Philadelphia, which helps expose students of color to motorsports. In May, Larson also began working with the Minneapolis-based Sanneh Foundation to advance diversity, equity and community well-being. He and wife Katelyn live in North Carolina with their son, Owen, and daughter, Audrey.

“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.”

Next season will mark the return of HMS’ No. 5 Chevrolet, which is currently unsponsored for 2021. The organization will no longer field the No. 88 number it has raced in the NASCAR Cup Series since 2008.

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 (Va.) 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.”

Kyle Larson’s timeline of his road to redemption after using racial slur

• April 12: Incident occurred while racing in a virtual event on iRacing.
• April 21: Completed NASCAR sensitivity training.
• April 27: Started diversity inclusion training (six sessions) with Doug Harris of The Kaleidoscope Group.
• May 15: Volunteered at Tony Sanneh Foundation in St. Paul, Minnesota (food drive and public speaking).
• May 19: Volunteered at KIPP School in Charlotte, North Carolina (personally delivered groceries to families of the school as part of food drive).
• May 20: Completed diversity inclusion training.
• May 22: Visited Jackie Joyner-Kersee in St. Louis. Toured her community center and surrounding area, including city of Ferguson, Missouri, site of protests in 2014.
• May 28: Volunteered at L-Life Food Bank in Lebanon, Missouri (packed food and delivered it to families).
• June 2: Made food donation and delivered it to KIPP School in Charlotte.
• June 15: Volunteered at Tony Sanneh Foundation and visited memorial to George Floyd in Minneapolis.
• June 25: Visited Urban Youth Racing School in Philadelphia. School was out for the summer, but a handful of students were in town and Kyle spoke to them and shared his experiences, both in racing and in life.
• Sept. 11: Started working with RISE, a nonprofit that educates and empowers the sports community to eliminate racial discrimination, champion social justice and improve race relations. Spoke with CEO Diahann Billings-Burford.
• Sept. 14: Spoke with 15 members of the NASCAR Diversity Council to share experiences and answer questions.
• Sept. 18: Visited Urban Youth Racing School, worked with students on the racing simulators.
• Sept. 28: Visited the Legacy Museum and Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama.
• Oct. 13: Sit-down interview with James Brown of CBS Sports.

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