Part Two in the No. 48 Series: Examining who may take the No. 48 seat at Hendrick Motorsports in 2021. Is it too soon for redemption? Can Larson Bounce Back?
Since his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the 2014 season, Kyle Larson has been one of the hottest young talents in the sport. He displays the kind of raw skill and car control that draws comparisons with a young Jeff Gordon – including those comparisons coming from the present-day Jeff Gordon.
From Larson’s First Cup Series Victory
Larson won his first race in 2016 and had a breakout season in 2017. Going into the 2017 playoffs, many had Larson penciled in as a championship favorite for that year. A disastrous playoff run quickly derailed those hopes.
Then, a lackluster 2018 season was swept away by a strong finish to the 2019 season that included one win, and an overall improvement in performance that seemed to imply 2020 would finally be the year of Kyle Larson.
What went Wrong
That positive vibe vanished on April 12th, 2020. While participating in an iRacing event at virtual Monza, Larson jokingly used a racial slur that was captured on several live streams broadcasting the race.
Within 24 hours, NASCAR and Chip Ganassi Racing suspended Kyle Larson. Within 48 hours, all of his sponsors had dropped him, forcing CGR to fire him outright. A once-promising career came to a screeching halt. NASCAR mandated that Larson complete sensitivity training as a condition of his reinstatement. Larson has completed that training, but so far, he has not submitted a request for a return to NASCAR.
Can Larson Bounce Back?
Before that unfortunate series of events, Larson was on nearly every shortlist for the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 car. He has the talent, the drive, and the ambition to take yet another step up to the premier Chevrolet team. He may not be out of the running.
NASCAR is very conscious of their image, and Larson’s wrong choice of words most certainly merited the punishment he received. The one point that trumps all in NASCAR is winning, and Kyle Larson is a winner.
Larson is an extremely talented driver, with many of his best years ahead of him. He is an experienced Cup veteran who knows what it’s like to win on an overtime restart or make a deep playoff run. Larson can take an ill-handling top-20 car and finish fifth. Larson remains the same talented driver that he was on April 11th, 2020.
Is it Too Early for Redemption?
The only real obstacle for Larson is the burned bridges with sponsors, most notably Chevrolet. As part of the cascade of events that led to Larson’s termination, Chevrolet explicitly cut ties with Larson. Losing sponsors will likely be the biggest obstacle to overcome, but if he can heal those relationships, do not be surprised to see Kyle Larson behind the wheel of the No. 48 car in 2021.