Since NASCAR crowned Chase Elliott its 2020 Champion at Phoenix back in November, teams have been working overtime to prepare for 2021.
Now, we are just over two weeks away from the start of a new season with the 63rd running of The Great American Race, the Daytona 500.
And Kyle Larson, in particular, is itching to make his return to the Cup Series with NASCAR’s most successful team.
To say that 2020 wasn’t the best year for most everyone would be a massive understatement, but for one of NASCAR’s best young talents, Kyle Larson, it may have been even worse.
At the start of the COVID-19 shutdown in April, Larson, like most NASCAR drivers and fans, took to iRacing to pass the time and get their racing fix.
However, during a live stream of a iRacing event, Larson was heard uttering a racial slur, which led to an indefinite suspension from NASCAR, his firing at Chip Ganassi racing, and the loss of virtually all of his sponsors.
With his career gone overnight, Larson and his wife were forced to sell the home they were living in, as well as the home they were building for their family in Mooresville, North Carolina.
Throughout the rest of 2020, Larson went above and beyond to earn his way back to the Cup Series, completing every requirement for his reinstatement and then some.
He also went back to his dirt racing roots, completing one of the greatest seasons in dirt racing history with over 40 wins, capped off by his second consecutive victory at the prestigious Chili Bowl Nationals.
Soon after being reinstated by NASCAR, Larson was signed by Hendrick Motorsports, the winningest team in Cup Series history.
And when he takes the green flag at Daytona in just over two weeks behind the wheel of his #5 Chevrolet, Larson will complete a comeback few thought possible just nine months ago.
As you would expect, Larson can’t wait to get back to doing what he does best.
But without any seat time since March, he also knows there will be some growing pains that he’ll have to overcome early in the NASCAR season.
“I imagine there might be some growing pains in the beginning with no practices and things like that and trying to get used to a new team and new guys, but they have so much experience and knowledge there, and I have three teammates I can lean on for advice,” Larson said in a recent radio interview. “I think we should be able to get up to speed quickly.”
Fortunately for Larson, though, he has NASCAR’s best team on his side, and with that comes the benefit of working with some of the sport’s best and brightest.
That includes his new crew chief, Cliff Daniels, who served as seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief over the final two seasons of his legendary career.
“I’m excited to be with Cliff,” Larson said. “He’s a different kind of crew chief that I’ve ever had. I’m thinking of all the dirt crew chiefs I’ve ever had – I don’t think I’ve ever had a crew chief quite like Cliff. He’s young, he’s just very, very driven and focused and a perfectionist. He’s got a pretty intense character about him. I’m excited about that – getting a chance to be teamed up with somebody that, I think, will hold me accountable and do a great job.”
But even with the growing pains from an extended absence from stock car racing and getting acquainted with a new team, don’t think for a second that Kyle Larson doesn’t expect to get back to his winning ways sooner rather than later.
“I would be very disappointed if we went all season long without a win,” he said. “I really don’t think that’s the case. I think we will be able to win at some point. I hope we’re clicking at the right time, and when the playoffs roll around, we’re ready to go.”
There’s never been any doubt about Larson’s talent – the guy has proven that he can get behind the wheel of pretty much anything with four wheels and win.
But one of the biggest criticisms of Larson prior to his suspension was his commitment to realizing his full potential in NASCAR.
After having it all taken away in the blink of an eye, there’s little doubt that will no longer be the case.
Kyle Larson could have chosen to race sprint cars on dirt tracks across the country for the rest of his life.
It probably would have been easier to do that too, considering he’s beloved by the entire dirt racing community and wouldn’t have to deal with the spotlight the top level of motorsports shines on you.
But he didn’t – he chose to come back to NASCAR in order to write a different ending to his story.
How that story ultimately ends is up to him.
It probably wouldn’t be wise to bet against him, though.
Sports with Balls will keep you up-to-date on any developments to this ongoing story.