Hendrick Motorsports announced Wednesday that it has signed NASCAR driver Kyle Larson to a multi-year deal to race its No. 5 Chevrolet car starting in 2021. Larson, an Elk Grove native who used to race in Chico, was reinstated by NASCAR last week following a six-month suspension for using a racial slur.
“Kyle is unquestionably one of the most talented race car drivers in the world,” team owner Rick Hendrick said 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.”
Starting next season, the team said it will no longer field the No. 88 Chevrolet, which it has been running since 2008. Hendrick will bring its currently unsponsored No. 5 car back out to the grid for 2021. The car number was used by the organization when the team started in 1984.
Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief Cliff Daniels will serve as Larson’s crew chief on the No. 5 team.
“The ‘5’ is special to me,” Hendrick said in a statement. “It’s the original. 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, 28, will join a roster of young Hendrick drivers that also includes Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman and William Byron, who are all under the age of 30. Bowman, who drives the No. 88, will move to the No. 48 next season, replacing Johnson after his retirement. Both Elliott and Bowman are still in contention to make the Championship 4 cut in the playoffs this season.
Larson has secured four playoff berths since his rookie Cup season in 2014 (2016-2019). He has won six races and scored 101 top-10 finishes in NASCAR’s top series.
The driver recently reactivated his social media accounts and has made public appearances since he said the N-word during a virtual racing event in April, which led to his suspension and caused his No. 42 Chevrolet Chip Ganassi Racing team and its sponsors to release him. While stepping out of the public eye, Larson was seeking a path to eventually return to NASCAR during his suspension.
“Mr. Hendrick is one of the people who extended a hand to me over the past six months,” Larson said in a statement. “Our initial conversations were not about racing. He cares about me as a person and wants to see me succeed beyond driving.”
Chevrolet, which indefinitely suspended its relationship with Larson in April, also backs Hendrick Motorsports. Regarding Larson driving its equipment again, the manufacturer said it “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,” Chevrolet’s vice president of motorsports Jim Campbell said in a statement to Motorsport.com. “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.”
Larson detailed his efforts to educate himself about the history of the N-word and racism in the United States in an essay he published to his personal website called “My Lessons Learned.” He explained the steps he has taken beyond NASCAR’s mandated sensitivity training to make amends with the Black community, which includes working with a personal diversity coach, speaking with Black athletes and volunteering with organizations aimed at promoting social justice and awareness.
“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,” Larson said in a statement. “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.”
Larson will have ongoing requirements to fulfill before he is able to rejoin NASCAR racing activities on Jan. 1. Those requirements include speaking engagements at NASCAR’s grassroots level and within the esports and dirt racing communities, training with RISE (a nonprofit that addresses racism and inclusion in sport) through 2023 and serving as a mentor for the Urban Racing School and Rev Racing.
Hendrick said he is “confident about what’s in (Larson’s) 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,” Hendrick said. “And Hendrick Motorsports is going to support those continued efforts.”