Kyle Larson, Redemption, Conviction And The Power Of Hendrick Motorsports

Kyle Larson came back to NASCAR in 2021, and proved why he deserves to be remembered.
Win by Kyle Larson
Image Source: The Checkered Flag

The Redemption of Kyle Larson

Prior to 2020, NASCAR driver Kyle Larson was a rising star. He had been successful at every level of racing and excited fans everywhere. We were all looking at him to evolve. We needed Kyle Larson to return racing to its rightful place.

Kyle Larson was the most successful NASCAR driver of 2021, picking up 10 wins and winning the NASCAR Cup Series Championship.

The year 2021 will forever be remembered as the year Kyle Larson reached his full potential. After years of contributing to a solid Chip Ganassi Motorsports team, he finally found his true home at Hendrick Motorsports, which has fielded legendary drivers like Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson to astronomical success.

Kyle Larson Winning
Image Source: Autosports

How It Happened, and Why It Happened at Hendrick

With the departure of the sport’s major stars in the last few years (such as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, including Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, just to name a few), a vacuum has been opened up. A young star succeeding at the level Jeff Gordon did in the 1990s is exactly the kind of positive story Nascar needed in its first real season following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

At the end of last year, many would have been surprised to know that the man who would fill that role, and become the NASCAR Cup Series Champion in 2021, would be Kyle Larson himself. 

“I cannot believe it. I didn’t even think I’d be racing a Cup car a year and a half ago,” Larson said. “To win a championship is crazy.” 

Kyle Larson Championship
Image Source:

Following a regretful and stupid decision made by Larson during a quarantine era live stream with fellow drivers, he was ousted from the sport. He lost his ride, his sponsors, and tons of respect. 

Larson had earned these things on his own. Prior to his 2021 Championship season, Larson had less than 10 wins to his name, but all had come in his 6 years as a driver. He was steady and consistent, and also one of the few Chip Ganassi drivers to consistently win.

When he used a racial slur on a live stream and was fired from that team, many in the industry wondered who would benefit from the freeing up of a prodigious young driver. Others figured he’d never return, given the political climate and loads of controversy already surrounding the sport.

Ultimately, the bad press around him died down, and Hendrick Motorsports, who was going through restructuring, eventually signed him and brought back their iconic #5. The loss of veteran drivers had affected their team more than any others.

Winning form of Kyle Larson
Image Source: The Bleacher Report

With no company willing to touch Larson with a sponsored endorsement, Rick Hendrick christened the car with his late son’s iconic paint scheme and put the family business, on the hood and sides of the vehicle.

Hendrick Motorsports, of course, as most NASCAR fans know, has been one of the most consistently successful NASCAR teams of the last 30 years. They have won 14 car owner championships since their inception in 1984. Jimmie Johnson won 7 Cup Series titles with Hendrick, 5 of which were consecutive from 2006 to 2010. Jeff Gordon, who won 4 titles himself with the organization, is now a car owner with Hendrick as well. 

With the history of Hendrick's unbelievable success in the sport, it is no surprise Larson, who was previously a Chevrolet driver as well, won right off the bat. The fact that he continued winning all the way to the end of the season really cemented the fact that Hendrick equipment is among the easiest to win in.

Larson burns out after winning the race
Image Source: NBC Sports

The Success Story Begins

When the Cup Series came to Las Vegas in March 2021, Larson put everyone on notice, leading 103 of 267 laps en route to his first win with his new team.

As fans of the sport know well, his underdog story (and his previous year of catastrophic public failure), made him an interesting story to watch. He continued his winning ways, eventually stacking up to ten total wins on the year. This was four more wins than he had combined in his career beforehand. 

The fans responded. At a Michigan International Speedway race this August, all I saw was Kyle Larson gear in every corner of the stands. Bandwagon and hardcore fans alike draped themselves in blue and cheered for Larson to redeem himself.

Few would have guessed that a driver as talented as Larson and a powerhouse team like Hendrick would have any difficulty achieving success together. Still, none imagined it would happen as quickly or as aggressively as it did.

Larson was the favorite every week to win. He finished the season with a 30% win rate, becoming one of only 17 all-time drivers who have won 8 or more races in a given season. 

He won everywhere. He won road courses, at intermediate tracks, and even on short tracks. Suffice to say, Larson has filled the shoes of Hendrick greats like Jeff Gordon, who himself had three consecutive years in the late 1990s where he had ten wins or more per season.

Larson wins Sonoma
Image Source: Sporting News

What The Future Holds

After the dominant year Kyle Larson had with 2021, he will undergo come considerable pressure to keep it up for 2022. This year, however, is an unusual year for NASCAR, as there are considerable scheduling changes as well as the introduction of a new race car, the Gen-7 model.

While it might take a while for drivers to get a handle on this new vehicle, one can only imagine that Larson will be one of the early masters. Given his background in dirt racing, as well as other types of late model racing, and his expansive background knowledge of different racing vehicles, it would not be a shock to see Larson finding success early in 2022.

The future is bright for Larson and he will undoubtedly look to defend his title against all comers in 2022. Because of Larson, NASCAR’s future is now that much brighter as well.

Joseph Poulos is a freelance writer from Michigan.

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