Suspended NASCAR Cup driver Kyle Larson will return competition in 2021, signing a multi-year deal with Hendrick Motorsports.
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 organisation’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 1 January, 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.”
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 motor sports.
In May, Larson also began working with the Minneapolis-based Sanneh Foundation to advance diversity, equity and community well-being.
“Hendrick Motorsports is a championship organisation 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. Hendrick will no longer field the No. 88 car 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 29 April 1984 at Martinsville Speedway.