Is the door now open for Kyle Larson to make a return to the NASCAR Cup Series with Hendrick Motorsports for the 2021 season?
A return to the NASCAR Cup Series for Kyle Larson has long been speculated, and he has confirmed on multiple occasions that he wants to get back to stock car racing as soon as possible.
Is the door officially open on that return?
Larson was fired by Chip Ganassi Racing back in April after using a racial slur during a virtual race on iRacing which was being live streamed on multiple Twitch channels.
Chevrolet cut ties with him as well, but that was via an indefinite suspension. There is nothing that would indicate that he is barred for life from driving anything with a bowtie.
There had been talks of him signing with Stewart-Haas Racing, given Tony Stewart’s longtime fondness of his skills and the fact that both drivers share illustrious dirt track racing roots. But those talks have subsided in recent months, despite the fact that we now know that Clint Bowyer won’t be back with the team next year, and the most recent rumor links Larson to Hendrick Motorsports as the replacement for seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson.
What Hendrick Motorsports did earlier this week was insignificant in terms of the overall complexion of their driver lineup. But it was significant in other ways.
They confirmed Johnson’s replacement behind the wheel of the #48 Chevrolet as Alex Bowman. However, Bowman has already been a full-time driver for the team since 2018. He is simply slated to move from the #88 team to the #48 team, along with crew chief Greg Ives.
But this move was more than just a trivial shift in numbers to trick the fans into thinking that Johnson’s actual replacement had been determined.
The team’s other two drivers, Chase Elliott and William Byron, are already under contract through beyond next year. Elliott had been signed through the 2022 season since back in June of 2017, and Byron, who had already been signed through the 2021 season entering the 2020 season, extended his deal with the team through the 2022 season back in August.
As for Bowman, he entered the year as a pending free agent. He only became signed through the 2021 season after signing a one-year extension in mid-May. He had signed a two-year extension back in August of 2018.
So with him already under contract for next year, why the shift?
Last October, the month before Johnson announced that the 2020 season would be his 19th and last as a full-time driver, Ally Financial signed a multi-year contract extension to continue serving as the full-time primary sponsor of the #48 Chevrolet through the 2023 season.
It made sense to move Bowman to the #48 Chevrolet to continue to build up an already existing relationship within the team instead of putting Johnson’s true replacement behind the wheel of that car and leaving Bowman, who is set to enter his fourth year with the team next year, searching for more sponsors.
After losing Nationwide following the 2019 season, Bowman has lacked in that particular department. Fortunately, Chevrolet Accessories (Adam’s Polishes, NOCO and Truck Hero) stepped up for 26 of this year’s 36 races.
No, Bowman’s move to the #48 Chevrolet did not come with a contract extension. While Ally Financial are signed through 2023, he is still signed only through next year.
But it’s hard to see that not playing out in the future, as this move illustrates clearly that the team are committed to their young trio of vicenarians moving forward into the foreseeable future.
Now that this is out of the way, the only thing left to do is confirm their fourth driver, whether that be the driver of the #88 Chevrolet or a renumbered car.
And adding Larson, 28, would allow them to add to that core group of young drivers to create a formidable quartet moving forward, provided Chevrolet approves the signing.