Kyle Larson at Las Vegas. A bit of a surprise…? Yes and no…
Larson was suspended from NASCAR competition nearly a year ago following a slipped racial comment during an online racing event. He’s been through apologies, grief and structured sensitivity courses. The reinstatement to NASCAR came with an invitation to join one of the elite racing teams in the sport. With the exit of Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick had a seat to fill. The bet was on for Larson. Car numbers were shifted and the number 5 was put back on track with Larson at the wheel.
It was all but expected for Larson to make some waves. Not only did he have some catching up to do but there was an underline to prove to Hendrick that he was a good choice. Proving to himself, for Kyle Larson, was likely also an incentive. The mark on his reputation from online language, and an extra effort to show his personal growth from the aftermath, was also a possible weight in the #5 Chevy.
All of that on the table, grabbing a win at Las Vegas as only the fourth race of the season was still a bit of a surprise. It takes a bit of time to “settle in” with new teams, cars and structure. Kevin Harvick, a common Vegas favorite, was on the pole. A lack luster performance from the Harvick squad put the #4 down a lap as Larson seemed to find his pace with the #5 running well. The team executed and crew chief Cliff Daniels handled the race well.
Kyle Larson is the fourth winner in as many races. Following the ruckus of last year and the waves brought on by scrutiny, the expression of gratitude to Hendrick, the fans and NASCAR by Larson seemed to be on the level. He seems well ready to be on the road he is on to bring his name back to good standing with fans, with NASCAR, with motor sport and in open view of the general public.
Bubba Wallace, also on tap with a new team and a new focus, was there to congratulate Larson on the win. It’s a small gesture of racing camaraderie but the underlying statement of “welcome back” was noticed as it came from the man at the center of much of the discussion of race in racing in 2020. Kyle Larson has made his mark in the winner circle. 2021 is early on the season. There are plenty of surprises yet to come.