Matthew Breault, Assistant Sports Editor
NASCAR officials reinstated Kyle Larson on Monday, Oct. 19, more than six months after he was suspended for using a racial slur during a NASCAR iRacing event in April.
Due to Larson’s indefinite suspension from NASCAR, he was dropped by his sponsors and fired from Chip Ganassi Racing on April 14.
Over the past six months, Larson, who is half Japanese and the only Asian-American to regularly compete in NASCAR, has taken and completed the NASCAR mandated sensitivity training. Larson explained in an interview with the Associated Press what this sensitivity training did for him and how it helped his understanding of racial injustices.
“The work I’ve done over the last six months has had a major impact on me,” Larson said. “I will make the most of this opportunity and look forward to the future. I was just ignorant and immature. I didn’t understand the negativity and hurt that comes with that word.”
Larson wrote an essay on his website where he explained the lessons he had learned and how sorry he was for what had happened.
When the news broke that Larson was being reinstated by NASCAR effective Jan. 1, 2021, it came as a surprise to some, because of how quickly the reinstatement process occurred.
RJ Starcevic, an aspiring NASCAR journalist who owns and runs “NASCARReport” on Instagram, said he wasn’t too surprised about the news, but he was more surprised about how quickly it happened.
“I expected it to happen maybe in the off-season, but I do believe NASCAR wanted to do it sooner just so Larson had more time to get sponsors and talk with teams for 2021,” Starcevic said.
Jacob Morgan, an 18-year-old from Southern California who runs “NASCARNational” on Instagram said he wasn’t necessarily surprised about the news, but rather shocked.
“I knew Larson had done some great things over the summer and with that, I had a feeling something might come soon,” Morgan said. “Personally, I wanted to see Larson get restarted sometime in 2022 with a small team and build from there. But looking at the most recent developments, it seems that those thoughts and feelings can be shoved down the tubes now.”
Rumors surrounding Larson driving for Hendrick Motorsports next season have been confirmed true as of Oct. 28. Hendrick Motorsports’ open spot for next season due to NASCAR legend Jimmie Johnson retiring from the sport after 20 years, a spot which will now go to Larson. Larson will drive the rebranded No. 5 car as the No. 88 will be taken off the track. Cliff Daniels will serve as his crew chief.
“I think one of the main factors into NASCAR reinstating Larson so soon is that he knew where he would end up for next year and that it is with Hendrick,” Starcevic said. “Once Hendrick Motorsports and Larson began discussing their options for 2021, I think the forces at Hendrick Motorsports motivated NASCAR to reinstate him sooner, as well as motivated Larson to make sure he’s done most of what he feels he needed to do to earn people’s respect back.”
Now that the situation with Hendrick Motorsports and Larson is no longer a rumor, many NASCAR fans are now wondering who will sponsor the No. 5 car when it is back on the track for the first time since 2017.
“One thing that Larson needs to be really successful with is sponsorship,” Morgan said. “I think it’s entirely possible to see Hendrick give Kyle a shot with Llumar Window Film sponsoring him for a good portion of the 2021 schedule.”
Now that Larson is in need of sponsorship, it is quite possible Llumar Window Film could be a front-runner because the company has previously sponsored Alex Bowman and the No. 88 for HMS, which will no longer be on the track.
There were rumors saying there were four possible numbers that Larson would drive in 2021 if he signed with Hendrick Motorsports, listed as the following:
- 5- Last driven by Kasey Kahne during the 2017 NASCAR season.
- 25- Last driven by Chase Elliott during the 2015 NASCAR season.
- 57- Kyle Larson’s current number in the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series.
- 88- Last driven by Alex Bowman during the 2020 NASCAR season. (HMS has announced Bowman will be taking over the 48 for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season).
Rick Hendrick, the owner of Hendrick Motorsports said in an interview that the No. 5 car means a lot to him and that helped him choose to put it back on the track for Larson.
“The ‘5’ is special to me, it’s the original,” Hendrick said. “I view it as a 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 Larson and Daniels.”
When Larson joins Hendrick Motorsports in 2021, he will be racing alongside young talent with William Byron, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman. With a very successful team that has had its fair share of winning, it is very possible that Larson picks up right where he left off and comes back and continues his racing success.
“If Larson wins and makes a deep run into the postseason in 2021, I see a bright future for him,” Morgan said. “This would be a hell of a comeback story if this goes down in a successful fashion.”
Even if Larson’s 2021 campaign in the NASCAR Cup Series is successful, he still will need to earn the trust back from the many people who have supported not only him, but NASCAR in general.
“I think next year will be a huge year for Larson as far as showing what he can still do on the racetrack, as well as off the racetrack to ensure that people inside and outside the sport know he is a changed man,” Starcevic said.
Larson is very excited for his opportunity with Hendrick Motorsports to get back to racing in the NASCAR Cup Series.
“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.”