Kyle Larson was going to be at the top of the totem pole in terms of free agents in NASCAR this year. Yes, Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski were also on this list, but the top of the line was always going to be where Larson was going to end up.
At the time, it was whether he would stay at Chip Ganassi Racing or replace the retiring Jimmie Johnson at Hendrick Motorsports. Those were the top two options everyone was thinking.
Ganassi, offered him seat time on dirt away from NASCAR. While Chip didn’t necessarily want Larson racing as much as he wanted in sprint cars across this country each year during his downtime, he still recognized just how much of a passion Larson had for it and would allow around 25 or so races per year.
Hendrick on the other hand, was known to not want his drivers racing in much other than his Cup cars. That’s why you don’t really see many of them over the years running in Trucks or Xfinity and you rarely see them on dirt.
It was a sacrifice Kasey Kahne had to make to join HMS when he did.
Then, Larson went out on Easter night and made the derogatory comment that he made. Silly season would get turned upside down. Not only was Larson not a hot free agent anymore, he was banned. His life changed at that moment.
Larson, was fired from CGR as Chevrolet and all the sponsors distanced themselves from him. His NASCAR future was in limbo. If he wanted to race during a pandemic, it was going to be for smaller dirt teams across the country. The luxurious NASCAR life, well it was gone and there was doubt whether it would ever come back.
So, how in the world did six months later he end up in that Hendrick seat? Especially in a world of so much social unjust.
“The thing that impressed me so much about Kyle (Larson) was his heart and the things he was doing above and beyond what he was asked to do,” Hendrick said on Thursday. “I had to get comfortable with his heart and that he was really sincere. He was not afraid to tell everyone that it was a terrible thing, ‘sorry I did it. I’m going to make it right.”
Hendrick, reached out to Larson after the comments as a friend. See, Hendrick supplied engines for CGR and Larson was a driver there. They knew well of each other.
They didn’t talk racing initially though. Hendrick reaching out to Larson this past spring was to just be a moral support to him. He knows who Larson is and felt like when all the world was doing was bashing him, that Larson would need a friend.
It eventually developed into a something bigger as Larson was doing his best to rebuild his reputation off the track and keep winning on dirt tracks in the process. He was dominating on dirt and when he wasn’t racing a Midget or Sprint Car, he was traveling across the country taking diversity courses and learning about the African American culture.
NASCAR eventually reinstated him. He paid his dues and admits his faults and showed he’s deserving of a second chance in the sport. Hendrick, still had a ride available. Larson, was the best option.
“I definitely think there’s probably a lot of people out there that have concern about me,” Larson said. “It’s not something that happens overnight. I think it’s something that takes time. I think people as they get to spend more time around me or get to see what I’m doing off the racetrack, outside the race car and get to really learn who I am. I think that’s when the forgiveness will be there and people will have a more open mind to forgive me.
“I know that takes time.”
To show just how much Hendrick believes in Larson, not only did he sign him, he signed him without a sponsor. In a day and age where it cost millions upon millions to run just one team, Hendrick is willing to do it out of his own pocket right now.
Larson, as of now, will drive an unsponsored No. 5 Chevrolet for HMS.
“If I presented his case to any sponsor, I would spend a lot of time explaining to them what he did and owning up to the mistake he made and the different person he is,” Hendrick said. I know that’s not going to be easy.”
Hendrick said that they’re just going to take it one step at a time.
Also, Hendrick will allow Larson the green light to race on dirt too. That’s eye opening.
“I don’t want to see him get hurt, but this is his love and I think it makes him sharper,” Hendrick said. “As long as it doesn’t interfere.”
No sponsor and allowing him to race on dirt. Hendrick, is showing what he thinks of Larson while Larson shows the rest of the world who he really is and not going to be defined by one mistake and a slip of a word that he should have never used.