ELK GROVE, Calif. (KTXL) — NASCAR begins its season on Sunday with the 63rd running of the Daytona 500.
For Elk Grove’s Kyle Larson, the upcoming season brings him a second chance.
“I feel extremely grateful because I really never thought that I would, you know, get another chance to race in NASCAR and I kind of accepted that,” Larson told FOX40 Wednesday. Larson is driver No. 5 for the Chevy racing team.
Almost a full year has passed since Larson last raced at the cup level, with his career ending early during the pandemic when he used a racial slur during a virtual race that was live-streamed.
NASCAR suspended him, and as nearly every sponsor dropped him, he was then fired by the No. 42 team.
“Yeah, it was a tough year for sure, but I grew as a person and I grew as a race car driver,” Larson said. “Now I look forward to putting everything together this year, and being a great person and a great race car driver.”
NASCAR reinstated the 27-year old late in 2020 after going above and beyond in his sensitivity training, and he quickly found a landing spot with Hendrick Motorsports as the driver of the No. 5 Chevy.
“Like I said, I didn’t know if I’d have an opportunity to race in NASCAR, but I was trying to do everything I could on and off the racetrack throughout last year to try and get that opportunity, and I am thankful that Mr. Hendrick saw the work I was putting in,” Larson said.
Larson arrived in Daytona on Sunday determined to put last year behind him and hopefully live up to hype that has been with him since arriving on the cup scene back in 2014.
Team owner Rick Hendrick is solely funding the No. 5 team with the belief that sponsors will eventually return to Larson.
“I’d like to be competitive each week and win a lot of races and hopefully contend for the championship. Like I said, also, I think I do have a lot to prove off the racetrack and showing people who I really am and showing the people the good person I know I am,” Larson said.
The Daytona 500 airs on FOX40 Sunday beginning at 10 a.m.