Kyle Larson has had a year rougher than most, with some of it his own doing. While also enduring the lockdown like the rest of the world during a pandemic, the veteran NASCAR Cup Series driver saw his career careen out of control after he made a racist slur in April. Since then, Larson has bided his time racing on the Outlaws circuit and eyeing a return. This last week, NASCAR and Kyle Larson both sent encouraging signals that return might be happening sooner rather than later.
NASCAR indefinitely suspends Kyle Larson for racial slur
Before joining the NASCAR Cup Series in 2013, Kyle Larson earned 12 victories on the Xfinity Series. In Larson’s first season with the Cup Series, he won the Sunoco Rookie of the Year. Since joining the top series, he has won six races.
Larson looked to add to his win total in 2020. He started with two top-10 finishes in the Daytona 500 and Las Vegas, and then the pandemic hit. With the NASCAR schedule indefinitely shut down and on hiatus, Larson joined other NASCAR drivers for virtual races. He used a racial slur while streaming one race, unaware the other drivers and viewers watching could hear his derogatory comments.
NASCAR indefinitely suspended Larson the next day. The Chip Ganassi Racing Team followed up by firing him. He lost all of his primary sponsors, including McDonald’s, Credit One Bank, and Chevrolet.
NASCAR informed Larson any chance of reinstatement was contingent on the completion of sensitivity training.
NASCAR reinstates a changed Kyle Larson
Kyle Larson completed his sensitivity training shortly after the incident. It was a prerequisite before joining the World of Outlaws where the former NASCAR Cup Series driver returned to his roots and raced on the dirt track circuit.
Although Larson finished sensitivity training, he didn’t stop there. He headed to Minneapolis after George Floyd’s death. He met with former soccer player Tony Sanneh and visited Floyd’s memorial. He visited with Olympic legend Jackie Joyner-Kersee and toured her community center in St. Louis. He met with numerous other Black athletes, including PGA Tour player Harold Varner III, as well as fellow driver Bubba Wallace.
Several weeks ago, Larson penned a heartfelt letter posted on his website about what he had learned about the Black community’s struggles, and in the process, what he had learned about himself.
This week, NASCAR reinstated Kyle Larson and issued a statement.
“NASCAR continues to prioritize diversity and inclusion across our sport. Kyle Larson has fulfilled the requirements set by NASCAR and has taken several voluntary measures to better educate himself so that he can use his platform to help bridge the divide in our country. Larson’s indefinite suspension has been lifted. Under the terms of his reinstatement he will be cleared to return to all NASCAR racing activities effective January 1, 2021.”
Larson closes sprint car team operations
After spending much of the 2020 season racing in the World of Outlaws, Kyle Larson announced on Friday he was closing down the operations of his sprint car team. Larson, who has been the sole owner of a team for the past three seasons, said it was a tough decision, and COVID-19 was “one of a handful of factors that led to this choice.”
Another factor might potentially be Larson wants to focus solely on the Cup Series when he returns in 2021. Numerous reports predict Larson will make his return with Hendrick Motorsports. Currently, HMS has three drivers on the 2021 roster and four cars. The six-time Cup Series winner is undoubtedly the best available driver remaining on the market.
Kyle Larson could have never predicted at the start of 2020, the unbelievable journey he would take this year in both his career and his life. While it’s had more than its share of painful moments, Larson has learned from them and shown tremendous growth as a person. NASCAR recognized that and reinstated him. Now it’s just a waiting game to see who he’s driving for in 2021.