Kyle Larson joined a new NASCAR team in Hendrick Motorsports ahead of the 2021 season, marking his return from an indefinite suspension due to the use of a racial slur. Now he has scored some critical points for his team. Larson won Stage 2 during Sunday's Pennzoil 400, his first since joining HMS.
Larson performed strongly during the first two stages of Sunday's race in Las Vegas. He remained in the top-10 throughout Stage 1 while competing with teammates William Byron, Chase Elliott, and Alex Bowman for points. He then took the lead from Brad Keselowski midway through Stage 2 and built up a sizable lead. Larson remained more than four seconds ahead of Brad Keselowski for the remainder of Stage 2 and took the green and white checkered flag.
While Larson hasn't won a race yet, he has been in contention for top-10 finishes in two of the past three races. He finished the Daytona 500 in 10th place and then secured his first top-five of the season during the Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Based on these finishes and his Stage 2 win, Larson has 40 Stage points, the third-most in NASCAR behind Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott.
While Larson missed 32 of 2020's 36 races due to his indefinite suspension, he remained a sought-after prospect. Once he completed his mandatory training and was reinstated by NASCAR, he quickly found a new spot. HMS signed him and hoped that he would add even more wins to his resume after six with his former team, Chip Ganassi Racing.
"Kyle is unquestionably one of the most talented race car drivers in the world," said Rick Hendrick, owner of HMS, in an October press 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.
With Larson joining HMS for the 2021 season, he helped bring back an iconic number. The team deactivated No. 88 after Alex Bowman replaced the seven-time champion, Jimmie Johnson, in the No. 48 and gave Larson the first number ever used by HMS. He jumped behind the wheel of the No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro and set out to make an impact on the 2021 season.