827 days that redefined Kyle Larson’s career
Eight hundred and twenty-seven days.
It was 827 days ago when Kyle Larson drove the No. 5 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports for the first time. Larson finished 10th in the 2021 season-opening Daytona 500.
The story that began 2 years and 3 months ago is well-known by now. Larson landed at Hendrick Motorsports after spending the majority of the 2020 season on the sidelines after being suspended by NASCAR for using a racial slur on iRacing and being subsequently fired from Chip Ganassi Racing.
Over the last 827 days, Larson has gone from a NASCAR Cup Series driver getting a rare second chance to one of the greatest drivers in the sport’s history. Sunday night at North Wilkesboro Speedway, Larson added to his legend with a dominant third All-Star Race win in the last five years, which is his second in the event with Rick Hendrick.
All three of Larson’s All-Star Race triumphs have come on different racetracks, and winning the first at North Wilkesboro also completed a sweep of the reopened track, given that Larson also dominated and won the Saturday Craftsman Truck Series race (naturally in his first start of the season).
In 827 days, Larson has become a weekly challenger (his competitors might say a thorn in their side) in the Cup Series, rather than a favorite on a certain type of racetrack. Along the way, he’s captured some of the sport’s biggest races, won a championship, and was named to NASCAR’s 75 greatest drivers list this year.
“I think about it all the time, how fortunate I am, and where my life and career could have (gone) in 2020,” Larson said Sunday night at North Wilkesboro. “It could have (gone) many different directions, and thankfully Rick [Hendrick] took a chance on me, and I am forever grateful for that.
“I think the timing was right, too. The timing was right for me – [Hendrick’s] equipment was super good. They had kind of struggled a little bit for their standards up to the middle of 2020, and then Chase [Elliott] was able to win the championship, I came on board, and we’ve had a great two and a half seasons now since then.”
Larson’s two non-points All-Star Race wins with Hendrick Motorsport sit alongside 15 points-paying wins. He is a Coca-Cola 600 winner from 2021 and added Martinsville Speedway to his resume earlier this year, which he later ranked among the most special of his career.
Larson needed just four races to score his first win with Hendrick, claiming victory at Las Vegas in 2021. Rusty Jarrett/Motorsport Images
Larson won 10 races in his first season in the No. 5 car. Three more followed last season, and going into Memorial Day weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Larson sits on two wins with a few more that have slipped away. He’s already led nearly 600 laps, and the season is not yet halfway completed.
“I hope to continue to win lots of races for this organization and hope to be here for a very long time,” Larson said. “They are the best team in the sport. They prove it year in and year out, and the people that are there are just amazing. It starts from the top, Rick is just a great human being, and everybody wants to do him proud. Drivers, as well.
“I’m very, very happy to be where I’m at and hope to continue to add wins and championships and all of that to my resume being at Hendrick Motorsports.”
It bears repeating that what Larson has done in the last 827 days with Hendrick Motorsports is staggering. Especially compared to the six full years (and four races of the ’20 season) before that.
Larson had six career wins before being hired by Hendrick and only one season with multiple wins. Before joining Hendrick, he’d led a combined 3,213 laps in the Cup Series. He’s led 3,798 laps since the start of 2021.
“I guess before 2021, I always thought that I could do it,” said Larson of how success has changed his confidence. “I thought that I had the talent to win races at this level. I just didn’t know then if it was me or the equipment or whatever. But I wasn’t having success frequently enough like I wanted to, and like I was having in the dirt stuff that I was doing.
“Once I got picked up at Hendrick, I was confident, but I don’t think I ever thought at the time that I would have the stats that we do up to this point, prior to running my first ever race for Hendrick Motorsports. But once I got to run some races in 2021, I was like, ‘OK, I am a good stock car racer. I can do this.’
“It’s been a fun road to this point, and we have a lot left to accomplish. And I’m only 30, so I hope to be around for a long time and creep up on what Jimmie [Johnson] and Jeff [Gordon] have done.
It’s taken Larson seemingly no time at all to win 15 races for Hendrick. That is good enough for fourth among the winningest drivers for the organization behind Elliott, who has 18 to date. Gordon won 93 races as a Hendrick driver and Johnson 83.