Larson exceeded expectations during NASCAR suspension - Hendrick

Kyle Larson "did 10 times" what was expected of him during his suspension from NASCAR after using a racial slur in an i-Racing event, according to new boss Rick Hendrick

Larson was competing in an online race in April last year with fellow drivers from the American stock car scene when he uttered the n-word, believing he had lost communication with his virtual spotter.

Immediately, key sponsors withdrew their backing of the Chip Ganassi Racing driver, and he was fired by the team the following day. As sanctioning body, NASCAR also suspended his competition licence, with reinstatement only a possibility after Larson had completed mandatory sensitivity training.

The Japanese-American racer did so, after which Hendrick Motorsports agreed a deal to sign the six-time Cup race winner to replace the IndyCar-bound Jimmie Johnson.

Larson will make his full debut at the wheel of the #5 Chevrolet Camaro in this Sunday's season-opening Daytona 500, after finishing seventh in his competition return in the first of the two 150-mile Duel races on Thursday.

"I felt for him when it happened," said Hendrick, who has overseen a record 13 drivers' titles in the Cup Series as owner.

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"I never knew how things were going to turn out, I didn't know whether my sponsors were going to have a problem, how the fans were going to react, but I knew his heart and I thought 'this is a talented young guy, and it is a shame, he has shown his heart and he should have a chance'.

"He didn't tuck his head and he started doing things that nobody asked him to. He did what he had to do for NASCAR, but he went way over that.

"A lot of people do things, and they say: 'I'm sorry', but that's it. They just say: 'I'm sorry' and go right on running their life and that is all they have to do.

"This guy did 10 times that. He has created an image and things in that community that people really respect him, so I guess the answer to the riddle is, I was part of it, but Kyle's heart and Kyle's desire got him back."

One act that Larson has previously cited during his rehabilitation period was visiting a minority racing school he had already built a rapport with during his Ganassi days, where he explained himself to staff and students. Hendrick also pointed to the experience as an example of the 28-year-old's dedication.

"Forget about he made a mistake and said something, forget about that part," he said.

"Think about the urban racing school he's brought simulators for and he had one of those kids and his mother [visit a] race that he won at Dover.

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"That's the thing that probably most people can't see, but he is a different person.

"He has looked at things he has never looked at before and it feels good to him that he is making a difference, and so I think he is not going to stop, I can tell you that. He is too involved in it now and I think he can really make a difference."

Hendrick is also sure that Larson will receive "a very good reception," as he returns to the Cup series, and that his new hire can be "a role model" going forward.

"If you make a mistake and own it, and not just own it, but dedicate your career to be a role model for other people that have made a mistake, or even people that hadn't thought about it to the depth that he has now, I feel like he is going to be very popular," he said.

"I think Kyle will get a very good reception. Everybody, or most people know how hard he's worked and what he has done to make things right or to say he is sorry and take ownership."

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