NASCAR: The unique aspect of Kyle Larson’s Hendrick signing

Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

The addition of Kyle Larson to Hendrick Motorsports’ 2021 NASCAR Cup Series driver lineup solidifies their youthful lineup, but this particular move stands out in regard to the youth movement.

It’s no secret that NASCAR is in the midst of a youth movement. For the best example of this youth movement, take a look at what Hendrick Motorsports’ driver lineup was in 2015 and compare it to what it is slated to be next year.

Toward the end of the 2020 season, Hendrick Motorsports announced their fourth driver for the 2021 season, with that driver being 28-year-old Kyle Larson, formerly of Chip Ganassi Racing before he was fired when several sponsors cut ties with him over his use of a racial slur.

Their 2021 lineup consists of a 28-year-old Larson, a 27-year-old Alex Bowman, a 25-year-old Chase Elliott and a 23-year-old William Byron.

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Hendrick Motorsports have gone younger in recent years, so it was no surprise that they went with Larson to replace the retiring seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who recently turned 45 years old.

The addition of Larson to the team’s driver lineup officially ushers in a new era, one of youth, at a team that just recently had an average age of 40 years among their four drivers by the time the 2015 season concluded with a 35-year-old Kasey Kahne, a 40-year-old Johnson, a 41-year-old Dale Earnhardt Jr. and a 44-year-old Jeff Gordon.

The current average age of Larson, Bowman, Elliott and Byron is just 25.75, and even excluding Gordon from the 2015 lineup age calculation results in a comfortably higher combined age than the team’s new quartet.

But the addition of Larson was different than the addition of Elliott, who replaced Gordon after the 2015 season, Byron, who replaced Kahne after the 2017 season, and Bowman, who replaced Earnhardt after the 2017 season.

Sure, it was the same in that Rick Hendrick is building his team to become a future NASCAR powerhouse.

He is relying on the next Jimmie Johnson and the next Jeff Gordon to rise out of this group of four potential superstars, and with Larson being the oldest of the group at just 28 years of age, this recent hire illustrates a clear commitment to that strategy.

What is unique about the Larson hire is that Larson, despite being a young driver, is already a proven winner and championship contender at the Cup level.

In 2016, Elliott was a rookie with five races of Cup Series experience to his name. In 2018, Byron was a rookie with no experience. In 2018, Bowman had two full seasons of experience to his name, but with the backmarker teams of BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing back in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

Sure, Elliott has become a regular race winner and title contender over the last several years and ascended to the top of the sport with his first championship a lot sooner than many expected this past season, and Bowman has emerged as a late-round playoff threat with championship-caliber upside in 2020 as well.

But Larson enters the team six Cup Series wins to his name, something that not even the four-time champion Gordon or seven-time champion Johnson did.

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Excluding his 2020 season, he is coming off of four consecutive playoff appearances with Chip Ganassi Racing, including three straight round of 12 berths and a round of 8 berth, as well as four consecutive top nine finishes in the championship standings. And now has he effectively received a promotion.