Wednesday morning, Hendrick Motorsports announced that Kyle Larson would join the team for the 2021 Cup Series season and into the future. The news created excitement among many fans and anger among others, and now team owner Rick Hendrick has responded. He revealed to Dale Earnhardt Jr. why he decided to bring Larson into the fold.
Hendrick appeared on the Dale Jr. Download on Wednesday to provide some insight into his new driver. He said that he and Larson had previously conducted some conversations, but the former Chip Ganassi Racing driver was still suspended at the time due to his use of a racial slur. The talks at the time were just theoretical. Hendrick also said that while he was well aware of Larson's talent, he was more impressed with the off-the-track growth he made during the suspension.
"You know, Dale, what I've been so impressed with is how he took ownership of what he said and how embarrassed he was," Hendrick explained. "You know, what's he's done to help in the communities around the country and the change in his life that this has made. I love the new Kyle Larson, the one that is showing his heart and [is] not ashamed to say he was wrong."
Hendrick further explained that he is a big supporter of second chances, albeit with one requirement. He said that people need to go beyond the requirements to truly get their second chance. He said that Larson did just that with the work he did after completing the required NASCAR sensitivity training. Hendrick came away impressed with his newest driver.
"Our country is all about second chances," the HMS owner continued. "And I think that people want to give you a second chance if you've changed. I think that's key. Are you just saying it, or do you really mean? What have you done and what are you going to do?"
Now that Larson is on the HMS roster, he will help bring back an iconic number. The team will deactivate Alex Bowman's No. 88 once he moves to the No. 48. Larson will then drive the No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro, the original number used by Hendrick when he formed the team in 1984.
The No. 5 has appeared in more races (1,129 starts) for HMS than any other car in the organization's stables and is frequently mentioned when discussing success. Terry Labonte won 12 races and the 1996 Cup Series championship while driving a stock car with No. 5 on the doors. Similarly, Geoff Bodine won seven races While Kahne won six. Mark Martin (five), Kyle Busch (four) and Ricky Rudd (four) all found success as well with the number while racing for HMS.