Hendrick, of course, had taken a chance hiring Larson in the offseason, vowing to sponsor the No. 5 Chevrolet himself in order to provide Larson another opportunity to compete in the Cup series.
Larson, 28, was fired from his Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 team last April for using a racial slur during the broadcast of an iRacing event and was also indefinitely suspended by NASCAR at the time.
He was hired by Hendrick Motorsports to drive its No. 5 Chevrolet last October beginning with the 2021 season and was cleared to return to NASCAR racing activities beginning on Jan. 1.
Larson wasted little time showing the wisdom of Hendrick’s move, winning Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in just his fourth start with the organization.
“I didn’t really expect for it to come this quick because I just thought it would take more time to gel. But our cars are fast. He’s a champion really. I’m so lucky to have him,” Hendrick said. “To win in the fourth race, especially when you don’t have any practice, you just show up and race, it’s really been awesome.
“I think they’re going to have a lot of success together this year. If you look back at the road course, he had a shot to win that. If you show up and you run well, that’s half the battle.
“Nobody doubts Kyle’s ability.”
Larson’s victory was also especially meaningful for Hendrick because it was the first time this season Larson drove the No. 5 adorned with HendrickCars.com livery which includes a paint scheme similar to one Rick’s late son, Ricky Hendrick, used in his brief NASCAR career.
“My wife and I were watching (the broadcast of the race). It was emotional. It was joy. It was so many things,” Hendrick said. “I love those colors. When we were going to be on the car, I mean, I wanted to run that paint scheme with that number. That meant a ton to me today and to my family just to honor our son.
“I love the paint scheme anyway. But Kyle made us proud today.”
Ricky Hendrick, 24 at the time, was one of 10 people killed in the Oct. 24, 2004, crash of an HMS plane into mountainous terrain in Stuart, Va., prior to a Cup race scheduled that day in Martinsville, Va.
Ricky had retired from driving in 2002 and was listed as the owner of two teams – Brick Vickers in the Cup Series and Kyle Busch in what is now the Xfinity Series.
“This win today in the No. 5 car with my son’s paint scheme on it was probably one of the most special races that I’ve ever watched,” Hendrick said.
“We still got work to do. We got work to do in the pits. You always want to improve. But we got good speed. The cars are handling well. All of these guys, from William (Byron) to Alex (Bowman), they’re all getting into another year. With their ages, they’re just going to get better.”