NASCAR: This was Rick Hendrick’s plan all along

Hendrick Motorsports entered the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season aiming to replace Jimmie Johnson with Kyle Larson for 2021. Now that deal has been confirmed.

And that’s really all there is to it.

Okay, so there were a few “twists and turns”, shall we say, along the way. Kyle Larson was fired by Chip Ganassi Racing after just four races had been contested in the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season after multiple sponsors cut ties with him over his use of a racial slur during a virtual race on iRacing.

While NASCAR had only suspended him indefinitely and mandated that he complete sensitivity training before applying to be reinstated, there were justifiable doubts that Larson would ever have the opportunity to compete in the Cup Series again simply because of the self-induced negative stigma surrounding him and its effect on potential partners.

But after several months of focusing on personal growth and education following his huge mistake, Larson finally applied for reinstatement, and his request was approved as expected.

Shortly thereafter, he was confirmed as Hendrick Motorsports’ fourth driver for 2021.

Let’s take a trip back to Tuesday, November 20, 2019, when seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson announced that the 2020 season would be his 19th and final season as the full-time driver of the #48 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.

Immediately, Larson, who was slated to enter the 2020 season as the top pending free agent on the market, became one of the leading candidates to land Johnson’s ride.

If it were up to social media, Larson would have been confirmed as Johnson’s replacement for the 2021 NASCAR season right then and there.

If it were up to Rick Hendrick, that also may have been the case.

According to Sports Business Journal‘s Adam Stern, Hendrick wanted Larson for the 2021 season entering the 2020 season, well before he prematurely became a free agent.

Now that is officially set to happen like Hendrick wanted, albeit in a way that nobody could have quite envisioned back when he was first rumored to become the team’s fourth driver last November.

Hendrick confirmed several months ago that he had already picked out a fourth driver for next year. He confirmed this well before Larson, who many thought would either remain at Chip Ganassi Racing or move to Stewart-Haas Racing next year before the racial incident, even applied for reinstatement.

In reality, he had him picked out long before that.

While Larson is set to replace Johnson in a lineup that consists of Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott and William Byron, he is set to do so behind the wheel of the #5 Chevrolet.

Following another announcement that had been rumored for several months, Bowman is set to move from the #88 Chevrolet to Johnson’s #48 Chevrolet with full backing from Ally Finanical, while the #88 Chevrolet is set to become the #5 Chevrolet ahead of Larson’s arrival.

The #5 Chevrolet hasn’t been used since the 2017 season when Kasey Kahne drove it. After Byron was confirmed as Kahne’s replacement, it was announced that Elliott would be moving from the #24 Chevrolet to a new #9 Chevrolet and that Byron would actually be piloting the #24 Chevrolet, thus removing the #5 Chevrolet from the team’s lineup.