CONCORD, N.C. — Don’t expect Kyle Larson to stop racing on dirt next year when he returns to the NASCAR Cup Series with Hendrick Motorsports.
After many people anticipated that team owner Rick Hendrick might severely rein in Larson’s time on the dirt, if not eliminate it altogether, Hendrick confirmed during a Thursday media call with reporters that won’t be the case.
“I plan to let him run (dirt),” Hendrick noted, adding when asked by SPEED SPORT that he wouldn’t set a specific limit as far as a number of dirt races Larson can run.
In short, as long as Larson doesn’t miss any obligations pertaining to his Hendrick Motorsports NASCAR program — team meetings, appearances and the like — he can run any dirt races which fit in his schedule.
It was a stark turnaround from Hendrick’s prior stance on extracurricular motorsports outside the Cup level, perhaps best illustrated with former Hendrick Motorsports driver Kasey Kahne.
Hendrick stopped approving Kahne to run sprint car events for nearly three years between 2012 and 2015 — stemming from a 2011 sprint car crash at Pennsylvania’s Williams Grove Speedway where Kahne flipped out of the half-mile track.
Kahne was uninjured, but his sprint car time was quickly curtailed.
This time, Hendrick has a potential superstar in Larson, who has won 42 times across five major series and four different types of cars in 82 dirt appearances this year.
Larson’s popularity — already high in dirt circles — has exploded even further through his summer winning streak, something that will likely remain even as Larson transitions back into NASCAR.
But Hendrick added his shift in mindset comes in part because of a potential benefit he sees from Larson’s dirt racing as it pertains to the No. 5 Chevrolet team.
“Obviously, I don’t want to see him get hurt, but this is his love and I do think it actually makes him sharper,” Hendrick explained in response to a question from SPEED SPORT. “So as long as it doesn’t interfere with the NASCAR team, then I’m OK. We want to get in a championship run and see him be 100 percent committed to his job here.
“As long as he can do that and race the dirt, too, then it’s OK. It’s OK by me.”
Larson told SPEED SPORT that having the freedom to race on dirt going into 2021 wasn’t necessarily a deal-breaker when it came to signing a contract with Hendrick Motorsports, but it’s something he’s grateful to have as he looks toward the next chapter of his career.
“I think everybody knows that that dirt racing is important to me and continuing to do that is important to me. But at the same time, I obviously know that my priorities are here with Hendrick Motorsports and having my full focus on that,” said Larson. “I’ll still be able to race dirt stuff next season, but if there are meetings or anything going on revolving around my NASCAR commitments, then that’s what comes first.
“I’m thankful that they’re letting me still run dirt stuff next year,” Larson added. “I think that with the schedule being a little more open, like it was this year, I’ll have plenty of opportunities to get my fun in and stay sharp and continue to become a better race car driver. I’m definitely thankful for that.”