CONCORD, N.C. – Rick Hendrick admitted Thursday morning, in a near hour-long press conference with reporters, that he knows putting together sponsorship for Kyle Larson next year could be a tricky process.
However, Hendrick was quick to add that he hopes prospective companies will see the growth and change Larson has undergone over the past six months, in hopes of adding partners to Larson’s program at Hendrick Motorsports.
The team announced Wednesday that Larson’s No. 5 Chevrolet is currently unsponsored for next year’s NASCAR Cup Series season, a fact Hendrick reiterated during Thursday’s media session alongside Larson.
The challenge for Hendrick and his organization becomes attempting to convince a company to support Larson after the latter was fired from Chip Ganassi Racing for using a racial slur during an iRacing event in April, held amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If I presented his case to any sponsor,” Hendrick said, “I would spend a lot of time explaining to them what he did and owning up to the mistake he made and the different person he is.
“I know that’s not going to be easy. We’re just going to take it one step at a time because I think as people really understand and get to see him through the lens of what he accomplished this year while he was out of the car, I think people are going to be more comfortable with coming on board,” Hendrick noted. “That’s my hope. We’ll see how it works out.”
Larson has spent the last six months learning, growing and rehabilitating his brand in the wake of the iRacing incident, working with the Black community to gain understanding of the effects that his choice of words had.
He’s also spent plenty of time racing on dirt tracks across the country and connecting with fans along the way, winning 42 times in 82 starts this year with several more races yet to go.
Hendrick was among the first people to contact Larson as a friend, wanting to aid him in the process of charting a path forward after Larson’s dismissal from CGR and subsequent suspension from NASCAR, but it wasn’t until several months later that the possibility of Larson driving for Hendrick Motorsports was even talked about – let alone agreed to.
The champion team owner, however, saw things within Larson that led him to step up to the plate for the California driver and extend him a second chance.
“The thing that impressed me so much about Kyle was his heart and the things he was doing above and beyond what he was asked to do,” Hendrick said of Larson. “I had to get comfortable with his heart and that he was really sincere. He was not afraid to tell everyone that it was a terrible thing, ‘Sorry I did it. I’m going to make it right.’”
Larson said during Thursday’s press conference that he knows there will be people – fans and otherwise – who second-guess or voice concerns about him moving forward.
However, Larson said he is ready to work to ease those worries and prove he’s changed for the better.
“I definitely think there’s probably a lot of people out there that have concerns about me,” he said. “It’s not something that happens overnight. I think it’s something that takes time.
“I think people, as they get to spend more time around me or get to see what I’m doing off the racetrack, outside the race car and get to really learn who I am, I think that’s when the forgiveness will be there and people will have a more open mind to forgive me.
“I know that takes time. It’s still been such a short time since this all happened that I still have a lot of my reputation to rebuild. I look forward to being around Mr. (Hendrick) and learn a lot off of him because he’s probably one of the – if not the – most respected people in the garage area. It will take time, but I think who I really am will shine through and people will be able to forgive me.”
Larson will be eligible to return to NASCAR competition on Jan. 1. He’ll make his Hendrick Motorsports debut in the Daytona 500 at Daytona Int’l Speedway on Feb. 14.