Kyle Larson signed a multi-year deal on Wednesday to drive the No. 5 for Hendrick Motorsports beginning in 2021 with Cliff Daniels set to serve as his crew chief. The team explained in a statement that they are rebranding the No. 88 currently driven by Alex Bowman, who is set to take over Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 next season. Hendrick has not fielded the No. 5 since 2017, when Kasey Kahne was with the team.
Entering the 2020 season, the vacancy at HMS was considered the top ride in NASCAR and Larson, by all accounts, was the favorite to fill the seat. However, Larson's career was derailed in April following the use of a racial slur in an online iRacing event, which was aired to the public. Larson was subsequently terminated from Chip Ganassi Racing and suspended indefinitely by NASCAR. He was reinstated by NASCAR on October 19th
"Mr. Hendrick is one of the people who extended a hand to me over the past six months," Larson said in a team release. "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."
As part of his reinstatement, Larson will be required to participate in speaking engagements with weekly series, eSports and dirt racing communities in addition to completing follow-up training through 2023. He will also continue to serve as a coach and mentor for the Urban Youth Racing School, which he did prior to his suspension. Larson, who is half Japanese, came up through the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program and is the only Asian-American regularly competing in the sport.
"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."
On the track, Larson has had an impressive career so far. He has won more than 250 events across a variety of sanctioning bodies and vehicle styles, ranging from stock cars, to sprint cars, karts, trucks and sports cars. Larson made his Cup Series debut in 2013 and was named Rookie of the Year in his first full-time season a year later.
Larson has made the playoffs four times (2016-19) and finished in the top 10 in 45 percent of his 223 Cup Series starts. During his tenure at CGR, Larson won six points paying races and also won the NASCAR All-Star Race in 2019. While suspended from NASCAR, Larson has won 38 times on dirt, primarily racing in sprint cars.
"Kyle is unquestionably one of the most talented race car drivers in the world," said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports in a release. "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... I'm confident about what's in his heart and his desire to be a champion in all aspects of his life and career."
Hendrick Motorsports has now lined themselves up for the future, boasting a lineup of young drivers that includes Larson, Bowman, Chase Elliott and William Byron. The average age of that bunch is 28 and combined the four of them have already won 18 Cup Series points races and earned 14 playoff berths.
"I'm excited about our roster of young talent," Hendrick said. "We have a team that is built to win races and compete for championships for years to come."