Kyle Larson will never forget 2020. Not only was he stuck at home like the rest of the world in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, he made a career-altering mistake that cost him his reputation and millions of dollars. After months of being away from NASCAR on the outside looking in, Kyle Larson is back and will be racing the Cup Series in 2021.
NASCAR indefinitely suspends Kyle Larson for racial slur
Kyle Larson has had a successful career with the NASCAR Cup Series since making his debut in 2013. In his first full season, he earned 17 top-10 finishes and won the Sunoco Rookie of the Year. Since then, he has won six races.
Larson appeared primed and ready to add to that total during the 2020 season as he started with a pair of top-10 finishes at the Daytona 500 and Las Vegas. Then, everything shut down due to the pandemic.
With NASCAR and the rest of the sports world shuttered, Larson and other NASCAR drivers congregated online for virtual races. However, it was during one of those races that would change Larson’s year, his career, and ultimately, his life.
Kyle Larson used a racial slur during one race, not realizing the other drivers and viewers watching could hear his offensive remarks. NASCAR dropped the hammer on Larson, indefinitely suspending him. The Chip Ganassi Racing Team dumped him. His sponsors vanished.
Kyle Larson puts in work and is reinstated by NASCAR
At the outset, NASCAR informed Kyle Larson he must complete a course on sensitivity training before the organization would ever consider a return. He did that shortly after his suspension because it was also a prerequisite for racing with the World of Outlaws.
For the next several months, Larson returned to his roots with the Outlaws and dirt track racing. Off the track, he sought advice and guidance from members of the Black community to better understand his words and the pain they caused, and what he could do to improve himself as a person.
He visited the George Floyd memorial. He met with Olympic legend Jackie Joyner-Kersee as well as PGA Tour player Harold Varner III, and fellow driver Bubba Wallace. Moved by those conversations, Larson penned a heartfelt letter and posted it on his website earlier in October.
Last week, NASCAR recognized Kyle Larson had gone above and beyond what was asked of him and reinstated him.
“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 returns with Hendrick Motorsports in 2021
For months there has been speculation not only about Kyle Larson’s return, but when it happened, what team would be welcoming him back. Those questions were answered today when Hendrick Motorsports announced that Larson would be driving the No. 5 car in 2021.
“Kyle is unquestionably one of the most talented race car drivers in the world,” Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports, said in a statement. “He has championship-level ability and will be a significant addition to our on-track program. More importantly, I have full confidence that he understands our expectations and will be a tremendous ambassador for our team, our partners and NASCAR. Kyle and I have had many, many conversations leading up to today’s announcement. I’m confident about what’s in his heart and his desire to be a champion in all aspects of his life and career. Kyle has done important work over the past six months, and Hendrick Motorsports is going to support those continued efforts.”
Like it has been for so many, 2020 won’t be a year Kyle Larson will soon forget. It was a year filled with pain and heartache, much of it his own doing. To his credit, he put in the work to not only rehabilitate his career, but more importantly, himself. Going forward, Larson and NASCAR will be much better for it.