Should Kyle Larson return to the NASCAR Cup Series in the 2021 season, one potential landing spot stands out above all the rest.
Just over two and a half months ago, everything was going smoothly for Kyle Larson as far as his ride with the Chip Ganassi Racing NASCAR Cup Series team was concerned, even though there had been no live action for over a month due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But on Sunday, April 12, the seventh-year driver of the #42 Chevrolet used the N-word during a virtual NASCAR race on iRacing which was being live streamed on multiple Twitch channels.
That led to him being indefinitely suspended by both Chip Ganassi’s organization and by NASCAR. But after several primary sponsors, including Credit One Bank and McDonald’s, cut ties with him, Ganassi went ahead and fired him. While Larson has completed the sensitivity training that NASCAR required him to complete in order to be reinstated, he remains indefinitely suspended.
But with all things considered, the fact that he is still suspended indefinitely really doesn’t matter, since a 2020 return is and has been all but out of the realm of possibility. Ganassi replaced him with 2003 champion Matt Kenseth.
As for 2021, that may be a different story.
Larson hasn’t been banned from NASCAR completely, and there is a chance that he will be back in the sport at some point in the near future. The 27-year-old Elk Grove, California native knows he made a mistake and has not ruled out a return, even though he has been having tons of success on the dirt over the last several weeks and has always been very vocal that he prefers dirt track racing above all else.
If he were to return next year, where would he end up?
Ganassi has confirmed that it was a business decision to let Larson go, and that he still has no problem with him as a human being.
But the obvious answer to this question to many is not Chip Ganassi Racing, and that was recently reaffirmed by RACER’s Robin Miller. Here is what Miller had to say when asked about the matter in his Mailbag.
“I called A.J. (Foyt) several weeks ago and told him to hire Larson (to his IndyCar team), but he seemed to think Tony Stewart was going to do it. I asked Stew a couple weeks ago and he said he’d like to, but nothing to report yet. Larson belongs in the Indy 500.”
A.J. Foyt owns IndyCar team A.J. Foyt Enterprises, and Larson has always been seen as one of the NASCAR drivers most likely to run the Indianapolis 500, given his ability to drive pretty much anything on wheels.
As for NASCAR, Stewart-Haas Racing has always seemed like the most logical option for Larson should he return to the Cup Series next year. Before he was fired, he was considered one of the top pending free agents on the market, and he had even been rumored to join the four-car Ford team next year anyway.
Stewart-Haas Racing only have one of their four drivers under contract beyond 2020, with that being Kevin Harvick, and not only were they the only one of the sport’s top teams to make a lineup change after 2019, but they have now made a change after each of the last four seasons.
The most important aspect of this is the fact that Tony Stewart has always been fond of Larson’s abilities. The two drivers share dirt track racing backgrounds, and Stewart, who competed in both IndyCar and NASCAR throughout his racing career, even tried to sign Larson as his replacement behind the wheel of the #14 car beginning in the 2017 season.
Unfortunately for Stewart, he tried to put the deal together in 2015 after he announced that the 2016 season would be his last, and under Larson’s contract with Chip Ganassi Racing at the time, setting up a move to Stewart-Haas Racing wasn’t an option, not even for over a year later.
Stewart ended up putting Clint Bowyer behind the wheel of the #14 Ford beginning in the 2017 season. Bowyer extended his deal with the team through the 2020 season in October of 2019 and is again in a contract year, but he has told Beyond the Flag that a move to the broadcast booth as a retired driver “damn sure ain’t gonna happen anytime soon”.
Stewart-Haas Racing’s other two drivers are Aric Almirola and rookie Cole Custer. Almirola is in his third season with the team after replacing Danica Patrick. Custer, who has struggled so far in his rookie year, replaced Daniel Suarez after last season.